Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Glassy Materials on Mars - And the Inevitable Connection to Potential Life There

Glassy materials have sparked controversies in the past, and I suspect that the latest news from the surface of Mars will face the same future. NASA scientists have discovered impact glass, glass materials that form during/after the impact of a large, searingly hot meteoroid. But that's not newsworthy by itself, as such glasses are well known here on Earth. What make the discovery potentially more controversial is that they are proposing that signs of life may be locked into the glass:
"During the past few years, research has shown evidence about past life has been preserved in impact glass here on Earth. A 2014 study led by scientist Peter Schultz of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, found organic molecules and plant matter entombed in glass formed by an impact that occurred millions of years ago in Argentina. Schultz suggested that similar processes might preserve signs of life on Mars, if they were present at the time of an impact."
Glasses containing biological material exist elsewhere too, such as the bugs trapped in amber that gave us Jurassic Park and all the endlessly bad sequels. (Why don't the dinosaurs go after the movie directors and producers that hoist these stinkbombs on us? Call it "Jurassic Park goes Hollywood".) But the sap that forms amber is soft and gooey at "normal" conditions, not the red-hot heat of an impact crater, so given the apparent rarity of life on Mars in the first place, I would expect looking for signs of life in impact glasses to be the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack effort. Count me out.

But tying the discovery to "potential life on Mars" is a Standard Operating Procedure for NASA. Look at what other discoveries, interesting in themselves strictly from a scientific viewpoint, have been tied to "potential signs of Life":Is there any discovery that NASA has definitively stated as a non-potential sign of life on Mars? So then let's stop making the connection between any discovery and life on Mars. How about a moratorium on "potential signs of life on Mars" until it's actually found? (Violators would have to face off with a velociraptor.)

Previous Years

June 17, 2014 - Where did the polymer's chemistry disappear to? Here it is!

June 17, 2013 - Dow Chemical Hit With Triple Damages for Price Fixing Case

June 17, 2011 - BPA Absorption from Receipts? I Don't Think So

June 17, 2009 - At least here the Editor loses his job


Anonymous said...

Because you can never have too many dinosaurs...

Anonymous said...

That's "man" for you - going way out of his way, just for a piece of glass.

Reading this, at first I thought that maybe someone in astrobiology had slipped a cog and that the interest was in finding some kind of anaerobic hyperthermophile.

John said...

That's a very interesting perspective.

I had a former colleague that often took an archeological perspective on things, such as how they would take a small glass chip and infer some much greater picture from that fragment, much like astronomers do.

Oh my gosh, that brought us full circle, didn't it? (Funny how things work that way!)

Anonymous said...

Oh no, it's a chronic hysteresis!

Which I guess... brings us full circle...

Oh no, it's a chronic hysteresis!