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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Life on Mars, Life in the Cosmos

Mars landscape just beyond the Argyre rim
Marcus T Anthony's new site and blog can be found at
It seems that not a year goes by now without further tantalizing evidence for the existence of life on Mars being brought forward, even if that life is long extinct. 

A recent significant finding has been that water existed on the surface of Mars in large quantities. A little over a month ago, an intriguing study from the European Space Agency found that water existed on the surface of Mars for hundreds of millions of years, mostly in the form of rivers. This was somewhat of a lesser finding than that of an American team, who just a couple of weeks prior to that had published a paper in Nature Geoscience journal, suggesting that a massive ocean had covered about a third of the Martian surface 3.5 billion years ago. 

Now a report published three days ago in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, reports that rocks have been identified on Mars that may contain evidence of life. It’s not quite proof, but close to it. 

Scientists hope to find fossilised remains in the Nili Fossae rocks, which are very similar to rocks in the Pilbara region of north-west Australia, which houses some of the earliest evidence of Earth life. Using infrared light, scientists from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute in California, compared the Nili Fossae and Pilbara rocks. The key finding is that the rocks share similar minerals and features, known as tromatolites. Dr Adrian Brown of the SETI Institute, who led the research, made the following statement.

If there was enough life to make layers, to make corals or some sort of microbial homes, and if it was buried on Mars, the same physics that took place on Earth could have happened there.

The Nili rocks contain carbonates, which exist in the fossilised remains of shells and bones, is formed when water and carbon dioxide mix with calcium, iron or magnesium. Its discovery is the best evidence yet that Mars was a planet fit for life as we know it, albeit rather primitive.

The significance of the cumulative evidence for life on Mars is highly significant for human futures. The discovery of extraterrestrial life will break one of the rather irrational taboos in science – the standard (though rapidly declining) scepticism that life in any form might exist beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. Scepticism has a healthy and an unhealthy expression. Healthy skepticism is found in a deep questioning of nature and truth claims. It contains within its consciousness a passion for exploration, and a willingness to embrace the possibility of failure - being wrong. Unhealthy scepticism expresses itself a reluctance to make any genuine speculation, or explore knowledge beyond that which can be readily verified or quantified. It contains a sense of distrust in non-rational ways of knowing (as opposed to irrational). At the heart of unhealthy scepticism is a fear of loss of control, and a clinging to the known, to safety.

The truth is that our knowledge of the cosmos is puny. As longtime Nature editor John Maddox stated, the 500 years of science is just a beginning. Science is still in its infancy.
In 1900 the cosmos was exactly one galaxy big. That is, science knew only of the Milky Way and its approximately 400 billion stars. That staggering figure in itself should make one humble enough to consider the likelihood that we are not alone in the cosmos. 

 Looking towards the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way

When the Hubble Space Telescope was put into orbit in 1996, our cosmos expanded beyond comprehension. Back in the late 1990s the telescope surveyed a small area of sky at a resolution never previously attempted. From the data collected, it was calculated that 130 billion galaxies exist in the cosmos. Assuming the Milky Way to be an average-sized galaxy, it then follows that the number of stars in the universe is 400 billion x 130 billion, or about 50,000 billion billion. 

 A recent map of the known universe (galaxies)

It’s time to pull our collective heads out of the sand. The reality is that we are not alone, and that the moment of our knowing this definitively is now upon us. A few microbes on Mars is not proof of intelligent life elsewhere, but if the second closest planet to ours once housed primitive life, what are the chances that the countless other planets in the cosmos have not developed life, and some of it far more evolved than ours?

In time our mainstream science will also come to appreciate that the physical, observable universe is just one layer of reality. Consciousness itself contains multiple layers, as mystics have long known; and much of that is unobservable, at least by the kinds of instruments and ways of knowing that are typically used in modern science. There are expressions of life which do not conform to the physicality of embodied human beings. 

I write this as one who has explored deeper levels of mind at a first person level. But how much do I really know. Who is to say that the levels of consciousness which I have explored and the “life” I have observed represents anything more than the tip of the iceberg? It would be rather foolish to believe that the limits of one’s perceptions are the limits of the universe.

That is a little bit of vanity that we have been engaging in for far too long.


1 comment:

  1. yummy descriptions thank you:)
    from ashley macisaac-canadian musician lover of the cosmos