Life on Mars
- Is there life on Mars?
- Was there ever life on Mars?
- If there was or is life on Mars, does that mean life has its origin on Mars?
- What are the implications for life's origins elsewhere in the universe?
- What if life only exists on Earth and never anywhere else?
By now scientists realize carbon and water are necessary for life. There is no practical alternative to carbon. Water is incredible in its numerous roles, like no other chemical, it's a solvent, lubricant, buffer, filler, and jack of all trades to life's being! Furthermore, conditions are uniform throughout the universe and thus apply to all other "possible life forms" anywhere in the cosmos. So, what of water, carbon, and possibly life on Mars?
Scientists now know that a magnetic field was lost to Mars about 4 billion years ago. Soon after losing this protective field, Mars lost the bulk of its atmosphere and water. Residual water may exist today, but oceans have not covered the red planet since the time life first appeared on earth (ca. 3.8 to 3.9 BYA).
Another interesting prospect is that life may have existed for a 'brief time' on Mars. But was life's origin Mars- or Earth-based! Any evidence for life on Mars, coming to us in the form of meteorites (i.e. rocks ejected from Mars) later arriving on Earth, may simply reflect a round trip visit to Mars and back (more on this later).
Academic and NASA funded astro-biologists actively seek data that might indicate life existed or still clings to the Red Planet. Microbial life on Earth that live in extreme environments provide researchers examples of what might still populate the harsher environs of present day Mars. However, until there is concrete proof for life, past or present, factors required to sustain a meaningful presence of life on Mars appear under represented. The hope for finding life there may simply be stronger than the thin potential reality.
As briefly noted below (with a more extensive reference on life's origins cited at the end of this article), recent studies of a Martian meteorite are inconclusive to establishing any certainty of past or present life originating from Mars. In fact, while one can anticipate evidence for ancient water on Mars, the data's interpretation may only to lead to uncertain conclusions and false assumptions for life on Mars.
Finally, be aware that materialist minds (e.g. within NASA and elsewhere in academia) will hold to the prospect for signs of life on Mars or elsewhere in our solar system— including moons to any planet or beyond to the cosmos at large. This hope is held in the face of growing evidence, from Earth and the cosmos at large, that life does not arise by chance. Yet, those activities continuing the search for life keep alive appeals for funding and further research. The lack of evidence and the counter evidence to life's origin by chemical means has not stopped such appeals.
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We've been thinking about and looking for life on Mars for some time now! The Viking lander was sent to Mars back in mid-1970s. Viking 1 was launched on August 20, 1975 and arrived at Mars on June 19, 1976. The Viking 2 Lander touched down at Utopia Planitia on September 3, 1976:
... But Viking was more than any voyage of Columbus. Not only might it have decided finally the question of life on Mars but, far more significantly, because Mars is the only planet in our solar system capable of supporting any sort of life, the Viking mission was likely therefore to be the only chance humanity would ever have of establishing the existence of extraterrestrial life by direct contact. Denton (ETC) Page 255
Even before launching missions to Mars, there was good reason to doubt the viability of life on Mars. Dr. James Lovelock, in his book "Ages of Gaia," notes that even when working for NASA—at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California—he was aware that the search for life on Mars would be fruitless. That's not to say life never inhabited Mars, but that the present atmosphere there today is too unfavorable (just look at the NASA photo from Viking, above).
... For anyone interested in the nature and origin of life, the reports that were sent out from Pasadena over the next few months were of unprecedented significance.
At issue was the fundamental question as to whether life is unique to Earth. Science can only deal with repeatable or recurrent events. A unique or very improbable event can never be the subject of scientific investigation. If life is unique to Earth then this means that it has only arisen once in all cosmic history, which would essentially exclude any sort of scientific approach to the problem of its origin. Before the study of the origin of life can be put on a serious scientific footing, the possibility that life is unique to earth has to be excluded. Denton (ETC) Page 255
If naturalistic processes explain everything in the universe, then life on Earth is likely not an exclusive event. Popular figures in science have made statements keeping naturalism's key hopes alive:
As American astronomer Carl Sagan remarks in his book Intelligent Life in the Universe:
" ... the discovery of life on one other plant —e.g. Mars—can, in the words of the American physicist Philip Morrison, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "transformed the origin of life from a miracle to a statistic." Denton (ETC) Page 252
However, Dr. Sagan's comment belittles the more recent and growing awareness to the impossible. As is made clear in WindowView's other science articles, the reverse scenario is likely true. Interesting, it's the empirical (scientific) data that lead us to such conclusions! Naturalistic origins (assumed by materialist and Darwinist) come with no feasible explanation—even after decades of scientific research. Examined from every possible perspective, life on Earth cannot be directly explained by science alone.
Until the scientific community comes to grips with the evidence we now have, we'll continue to hear the questions: Was there ever life on Mars? (Possibly!) But how? Might life still exist on the red planet? Would evidence for life there prove life originated on Mars?
Reality Sets In
Some grand assumptions have been made concerning life on Mars. Recent findings concerning the atmosphere, subsurface water, and polar ice all add to the speculation. Other evidence based on Martian meteorites also fuels enthusiasm. We'll briefly visit a number of these issues here. We also recommend a recent book that goes into all this greater detail.
Concerning water on the red planet, we now know that due to a loss of the Martian magnetic field, some four billion years ago, solar winds stripped the red planet of its surface waters. A recent episode of PBS's NOVA (Magnetic Storm, first aired in 2003) makes this point clear. This process would have taken some millions of years, but the result is a planet inhospitable to life. Without Earth's magnetic field, the same loss of water would occur here, too.
Concerning Life's Origin -- Mount Rushmore on Mars?
Preliminary data can create exciting possibilities. The now famous face on Mars was the subject of print, radio, and television reports for years. And if used without the more recent higher resolution photos may have perpetuated myth and speculation. A low resolution image (on left) suggests a monument exists on Mars—perhaps left by ancient hominid like beings.
new data reveal a mount (upper right and enlarged below) that is weathered
and cut in a much more arbitrary fashion. The 'mouth' is not as consistent
a feature as suggested previously and the lack of other features elsewhere
on the planet gives little support to the original speculation.
with the aid of higher resolution photos from another NASA mission reveals
a geology of mere coincidence. A pattern of evenly dispersed erosion all around this feature. While
the faces on Mt. Rushmore are the product of intelligent agents, the
weathering of this feature on Mars does not show the specificity nor
the durability of a monument engineered to endure time. And it might
be just as possible to see 'something' in the details by turning the
picture around 180 degrees.
When water existed on Mars, might life have occurred then? This question puts us back to the very same set of considerations for life's origin on Earth (or anywhere else for that matter!). Some scientists propose life originated elsewhere and was transported to Earth (i.e. panspermia). Again, if there are hurdles to life's origins on Earth, the same constraints apply everywhere. Putting off the location to life's origin does not solve the problem.
There are immense problems to assuming life evolved from a solution of free chemicals. (For related issues, see our article on chemical evolution).
The time factor for 'chemical evolution' and even the improbable nature to chemicals concentrating on planet Earth in a fashion making a way to life is discussed in great detail by Thaxton, Bradley and Olsen in: The Mystery of Life's Origin (see below).
For example, life's origin must come with the means to provide all the necessary chemicals, not a few, but an entire array of biomolecules! From the starter molecules must come a means to operate a form of metabolism. Not just one or two steps but entire arrays of steps making numerous complex pathways. This complexity depends on molecular machinery that manufactures molecules, as in protein production, but further, replication that passes on the production capability to successive offspring (cell or organism, either way). And there are so many "chicken or egg came first" questions to be answered. RNA, DNA and Proteins support life activities we see in cells today. Which of these chemicals came first? How did they "know" what was needed to make life operate? These are chemicals that are essentially rich with information. Where did the information come from!
Only a few daring academics, scientific researchers and philosophers of science, have concerned themselves with the complexity and specificity of information that must exist to coordinate, direct, and maintain life. Metaphysical implications may apply here. But why does that scare away the prospects for productive research funding! It has, so far. Yet, NO ONE knows, in a material sense, where such information could come from. Saying it happened by chance is nowhere within the realm of what is probable (to the point of being impossible).
What is particularly confounding are the factors necessary to explain evolution of cells and thereafter on to organisms with complex body plans. Many of these are now known to come with sudden appearances (see our companion articles on Cambrian explosion and fossils).
And if life's appearance from simple chemicals is improbable on Earth, then there is even less opportunity for such an occurrence on Mars—especially with its ancient loss of water and present surface climate.
As the astronomer Hugh Ross puts it, signs of life previously living on Mars should be no surprise. Indeed, matter ejected from Earth and Mars, has traveled between both planets. Seeding life on Mars, with Earth as the source may be a true example of panspermia, but hardly proof that such seeding would have brought life to Earth in the first place. Again, one must consider all the hurdles for life's assumed naturalistic origin to make a holistic assessment. So far, such thinking falls short and many scenarios end up like a wishful game of drawing straws (see Rana and Ross, also Thaxton, et al.).
The hurdles to establishing the first life forms are so great that we run into the kind of odds Lee Spetner finds in his analysis for naturalistic evolution (see Not by Chance). The odds don't favor life by chance. So, think over the entire landscape of what works, what is practical, possible, and even likely. We expect really incredible observations to come out from science, but we are weary of proposals based on the improbable—headliner sensational interpretations are best left to the grocery market tabloids.
Reasons to Believe: It's Only an Interesting Artifact!
The title above is a play on words. First we recognize a long overdue contribution by two scientists at Reasons To Believe (i.e. Drs. Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross) as presented in their book:"Origins of Life—Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off." Chapter 14 of this book makes a review of what science has learned from a Martian meteorite (pictured below on the left).
A rock, weighing 4 pounds and tagged with the ID ALH84001 was a sensational source for the nightly news back in 1996. This tiny hunk of Mars had traveled some 16 million years from Mars to Earth, then rested on the Allan Hills region of Antarctica for some 13,000 years before being gathered and placed in storage for another nine years. Once examined a number of indicators, possibly for signs of life, were described by scientists. The rock's surface revealed:
- carbonate globules similar to those produced by Earth's life
- polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) that are associated on Earth with the death and remnants of life
- magnetic mineral crystals like those associated with certain bacteria
- apparent microfossils, perhaps very tiny bacteria
Potassium-argon dating put the meteorite at about 4.56 billion years of age. This is the oldest known rock from any planet. Yet, the speculation is that the evidences above are all indicators of life on Mars. At least the evidence was present on the rock at the time it was ejected into the solar system and then traveled on an earthbound trajectory.
A full description as to why each of the evidences above are inconclusive is given by Drs. Rana and Ross's book "Origins of Life" (see book link below).
In brief, research that came after the initial NASA announcements and speculations about Mars-based life reveal the carbonates are of questionable origin. They can be explained based on shock melting (at high or low temperatures) and thus are not conclusively due to life's presence. The PAHs can also be the result of the same melting.
The presence of carbon based compounds are likely the result of contamination resulting from exposure to the earth's environment, even in the Antarctic. The meteorite's carbon-14 appears to be associated with the PAHs and there should be no such carbon in old material from Mars, especially after a long trip across near space. Carbon-14 would have all been depleted (by radioactive decay) if it had been of Mars origin.
The magnetic crystals associated with a few species on earth also appear not to be those on the meteorite.
The most provocative evidence is the electron micrographs of what appear to be fossils of bacteria. However, as summarized in detail by Rana and Ross, the presumed microfossils are too small and are also likely artifacts of the microscopy preparation used to visualize the meteorite's surface.
Life Support On Mars
Earlier, we referred to the atmosphere as another problem:
"In addition, the Martian atmosphere has always been thinner than Earth's, thus exposing its surface to more ultraviolet radiation and hastening the departure of water. A thinner atmosphere would imply fewer resources for emerging life to exploit. Ultraviolet radiation would impair, if not shut down, prebiotic chemical pathways." Origins of Life, Rana and Ross, 2004, page 194.
There are actually a host of problems with an origin to life on Mars. It takes a book length discussion to cover many of the details. We've only begun to get a glimpse of the issues here. Again, be aware of the short window of opportunity for life on Earth to be transported by rocks (meteorites in reverse travel) arriving on Mars. Rana and Ross indicate that NASA now has the technology to find traces of life's signature on Mars. If so, might they be detecting remnants of life from Earth that long ago was transported to Mars. How long that life remained viable is another question. Evidence and conditions for a sustained presence of life on Mars is not encouraging—quite to the contrary—sources of carbon and water are missing.
It is the hope of the materialist mind that Mars was once a point of origin to life. This is vain hope in the face of evidence we have today—also, it is ever more evident that life arouse spontaneously on Earth, in the instant the earth was hospitable to life's presence. Such an occurrence flies in the face of naturalistic scenarios. Again, this topic is also addressed with stunning details by Rana and Ross in "Origins of Life."
In preparing this and related life origin articles for WindowView, we've made a strong recommendation to consider issues covered by Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen (in their book: The Mystery of Life's Origin—Reassessing Current Theories; published in 1984) and the Rana and Ross book (Origins of Life, published 2004 ). Each of these works draws on a number of scientific articles and books that provide a broad base to support the issues as presented. Seeing the complexity to our material reality makes for sobering conclusions—even metaphysical conclusions. All this is essentially a process of building perspectives. Yet, the approach of these books is not presently adopted in the main stream, simply because they bring us to the conclusion of design and life's origin stemming from the actions of an intelligence, Designer, and even a Creator's will.
If you have doubts, read these books. They are scholarly and present credible arguments. In the near future, the topics considered here will ultimately be recognized by the scientific community at large, because all avenues bring us to the discussions published in these works. These are written and presented by scientists on the basis of scientific perspectives. The implications are indeed metaphysical, but then not every physical event or condition can be explained by physical cause and effect relationship. And we need not look to Mars to see life's wonders and purpose. They are before us, right here on Earth.
To compliment the information concerning life's origin on earth and the probability of life formerly finding its way to Mars, we encourage a reading of the book pictured on the left. Origins of Life, published in 2004 by Drs. Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross. The text is easy to read and provides updated information not presented by Thaxton, et al., in their "The Mystery of Life's Origin." In fact, the latter title is out of print and somewhat difficult to find.
References of Interest
The Mystery of Life's Origin by Thaxton,
Bradley and Olsen is a landmark in scientific assessments (click on the book cover image to download the book in PDF).
Quotations from Dr. Michael Denton's "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis" are used by permission of Adler and Adler Publishers Inc., 5530 Wisconsin Ave, Suite 1460, Chevy Chase, MD 20815
Writer / Editor: Dr. T. Peterson, Director, WindowView.org
The WindowView drops many of the typical presumptions to take another look. What does scientific data tell us if we start without assumptions? And ... how contiguous is science information if examined along with scriptural perspectives provided by the Bible? The Bible is the only religious or holy book we know of that is in fact consistent with science. While not a textbook, the Scriptures are either contradictory or complementary to scientific perspectives. Have you looked at these perspectives? To see 'Science and Scripture in Harmony' is to reveal life, reality, and your future.