What’s Wrong with NASA: Evidences of Life on Saturn’s Moon Enceladus?

By J.P. Skipper

This is my first report for what I suspect will be a landmark year 2012 in this field. Remember that by the end of this year (December) the old is suppose to come to an end and something new begins for Earth, at least as far as the ancient Mayan calendar and various prophets with decent track records are concerned. I can’t say for sure on that but during the meantime, just in case I’m going to get a little more speculative in some of my reporting where I think it is appropriate and it starts with this report.

The above 1st black and white image was taken by the Cassini spacecraft of the southern region of Saturn’s moon Enceladus that periodically sprays out jets or plumes of heated water that quickly freezes to ice in space as you see it doing here. Enceladus is a moon in Saturn’s rings. The current science thinking is that Saturn’s rings are made up of water ice and rock debris of all different sizes as well as a number of moons and dwarf planets held in orbit by huge Saturn’s tremendous gravity well.

The official thinking is that a comet of water ice plowed into Saturn’s orbit some time in the ancient past and, before busting up completely, it may have impacted one or more of Saturn’s moons and/or asteroids in that ancient time generating the rings full of rock debris and water ice held in orbit by Saturn’s tremendous gravity. Enceladus is only the sixth largest of Saturn’s moons with a diameter of 500 km or 310 miles and only 10% the size of the largest moon Titan.

Despite its smaller size, Enceladus is one of the brightest objects in our sky. The thinking on the reason for that is that Enceladus’ surface appears to be made up of a lot of water ice that is of course white in color and highly reflective in sunlight. It should be noted that this moon is located in the densest part of Saturn’s relatively diffuse “E” ring. There is speculation that Enceladus’ water ice outpouring is responsible for much of the density of the “E” ring. Do remember that piece of information because it will become increasingly more important in this reporting.

Note in the above 1st image that the main water jets or plumes appear to stretch in ragged lines of subtle brightness from the lighted edge areas of Enceladus back into the darker areas of the moon’s surface. This suggests that the strongest sprays do indeed come from fissures or cracks in the surface there in this southern region.

The official text in the NASA Photojournal notes that the above image is a mosaic created from two Cassini raw images. The current science thinking is that these are heated water/ice jets originating from deeper down below Enceladus’ surface spraying through fissures in the surface and then quickly freezing to ice in open space. Sounds reasonable doesn’t it.

Most of these fissures are located in the so called “Tiger Stripes” area at Enceladus’ south polar region. These tiger stripes are nothing more than visible fissures (cracks) and, as you can see, the above jet evidence in the darker area tends to support this theory. Now let’s take a closer look at these water venting fissure or tiger stripe sites in the next two images below.

Tiger stripe fissures in Southern pole( http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA06247)

The above 2nd image is a NASA Photojournal PIA06247 shot taken on 7/14/2005 of a large portion of Enceladus’ south polar region and the tiger stripe features area. The official text says that this image is 1,024 pixels wide and that the image scale is 122 meters or 400 feet per pixel. You do the math if you would like to arrive at the scale.

Meanwhile, please note that despite the wide area view, there are no impact craters in the above scene, only ridges, topography buckling, and fissures. Remember that Enceladus is in Saturn’s rings that might generate a bunch of rock missiles, so this tells us that this terrain is relatively young and fairly recently formed even if it isn’t currently jetting water. That suggests that this terrain is mostly water ice that forms into a self leveling liquid or semi-liquid frozen soil mixed mud and then refreezes back eventually into the newer terrain patterns you see here.


The above 3rd image is a much closer Cassini PIA11127 shot taken on 10/31/2008 over 3 years later. It provides a closer view of the same type of topography in the south polar or tiger stripe region.

As you can see, this is some seriously rough topography but again no impact craters in it. In theory the largest fissures or canyons you see there are the source of water/ice jets. Remember now that the current prevailing science theory is that deeper underground water periodically heats up due to Saturn’s tremendous gravitational influence and expands upward and spewing out into space via the jets or plumes through these largest fissures where it quickly freezes into ice particles and becomes part of Saturn’s diffuse E-ring.

That science speculation tends to suggest that what we are looking at here in the 3rd image may be at least in part soil and rock geology over a subterranean water base and the largest fissures are the escape valves area for the heated rising water as it takes the path of least resistance upward through the largest deep fissures. Again the above 3rd image tends to support this theory. However, now take a look at next two images below and their newer 2010 evidence?

Waves radiating from many central points suggesting liquid surface( http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/photos/raw/rawimagedetails/index.cfm?imageID=228082)

The above 4th and 5th images are the best of their kind and based on the Cassini raw W00065512 image taken more recently on 9/22/2010 of Saturn’s moon Enceladus’ surface. The 4th image is of the general scene at 100% of the original and the 5th image is of the darker lower left quadrant of the general image blown up 200% of the original. The distance is suppose to be 248,565 km or 154,450 miles from the Cassini spacecraft to Enceladus here but it appears to me to be a whole lot closer than that. Further, there appears to have been some manipulation of this W00065512 image.

For example, the original official raw image strip the above 4th and 5th images are drawn from is physically taller and deeper down than the 4th and 5th images I am showing here. I’ve cropped out that bottom dark area because there is nothing in it to see other than dark blankness. One might think that it’s space but it isn’t, it’s just blank substitution.

Because of that, one might think that the W00065512 image view catches the outer edge of Enceladus but that isn’t the case either. I suspect something may have been there in the closer shot in the bottom area of the strip between Enceladus and the Cassini camera that has been removed by basically removing everything in that bottom area of the strip. In my imaging here I’ve left just a little of this at the bottom of both of the above 4th and 5th images for you to see.

Likewise, note the tiny bright specks in the bottom area of the above blown up 200% 5th image. Those bright specks are important. If you saw these bright specks against a dark space background (and you will see that in other images below) rather than against a small world, you would naturally assume that they are stars but most of them aren’t. The tip off is that all of these kind of “stars” are the same size and light intensity. In the case of the Cassini probe, such specks are for the most part residual empty pixels where something has been removed from the image. The proof is that when the image is blown up and enough contrast is added, a collection of image artifacts clustering around these specks revealing this truth can be seen. Tricky isn’t it.

I’m going to suggest that what we are looking at in the above 4th and 5th images is that rough Enceladus terrain in the 2nd and 3rd images being melted into a self leveling fluid soil nd water slurry mixture and each of those different size spots with apparent wave rings radiating out from the center of each one are bubbles of various sizes formed by heated water below rising to the surface in preparation of the next coming water jet event.

It’s similar to water just beginning to boil in a pot of soil and water mixture otherwise known as mud. Note that the fluid is not pouring out from fissures here but heating up from below and melting the entire surface area. This suggests that there may be no hard land surface here at all, just a water/soil mud like consistency on the surface just beginning in more advanced stages to do its water jet/plume thing shortly as would mud if over heated in a pot.

So we’ve learned something about Enceladus’ geology in that regard thanks to the Cassini imaging. However, let’s get back to those tiny bright specks that are in my opinion where some objects have been digitally extracted from the scene.

Note that they are between us and the Enceladus surface, so they can’t be claimed to be stars in space, although they could be claimed to be reflective rocks or ice masses within Saturn’s rings. If so, then why would someone go to all the trouble and expense to remove evidence that isn’t really anomalous? I suspect and speculate that this actually closer view of the Enceladus surface was included in the official record to record this very important and informative geological jetting event starting to unfold for the scientists. However, in doing so, the closer view also revealed objects on a closer larger scale between Enceladus and the Cassini camera with enough resolution to reveal what they may really be and that it is LIFE.

Objects that someone doesn’t want us or the scientists in general and especially those involved in the Cassini mission to know about. No I’m not talking about space ship objects here, it is actually more incredible than that. What I am talking about is biological life itself. Biological life that can live in space but which often remains within range of these Enceladus jetting events and/or within at least the “E” ring of Saturn and its diffuse E-ring water ice resource.

Life that can gather and retain water ice within itself in the rings both as a resource in supporting organic life and to provide self generated power for that life. Further, it also shares some similarities to the bioluminescence organism life in the deepest darkest part of our Earth oceans where bioluminescence in the intense darkness comes in very handy. An adaptation that it shares for the same reasons in the blackness of space. In other words, where there is a need, life often finds a way.

I suspect it is herding or more appropriately schooling space life that is beginning to congregate above and getting ready to take advantage of the upcoming Enceladus water jet resource event shown just beginning to form in the 4th and 5th images here. Life such as that in the following images.

I suspect the only reason that this W00065512 image made it into the official record is because it is geologically important as to the water jets and because cropping off the bottom of the image did away with views too close of denser and more recognizable concentrations of this life against the Enceladus background and the few objects still left in the image shown could be removed individually without drawing much attention to this obfuscation tactic.

The above 6th and 7th images are two separate Cassini N00164016 and N00164015 raw images, both taken on 10/4/2010, that demonstrates these objects against against a space background. Although they are from two separate images, note that one is closer than the other. Also note that they are both of the same scene but with subtle differences. For example, note that the orientation of the objects is the reverse of each other and there has also been some subtle changes changes in the background.

Please also note that this change in orientation is not the result of a flipping of the image, only a change limited to the object’s and their orientation. All of these factors combine as evidence strongly suggesting that these objects are real and not imaging artifacts of any kind. Now note in this 7th image the closer view all those “stars” in the background. Note how many there are and their general uniformity in size and light intensity quite contrary to natural stars that would be of different sizes and intensity.

Not quite all but most of this evidence is not stars at all but the empty pixels where something has been extracted from the image during processing. Now if that is true, think now many there are of what ever has been removed from this scene. Despite their more distant appearance due to their smaller size, I suspect that these empty pixels represent closer to the camera views of these same objects that might have provided a stronger recognition factor raising the suspicion even among conformity influenced scientists that they may be looking at life here and opening that door in their thinking.

However, there are yet other factors to consider. For example, note the uniformity of size and length of the objects that we can still see here even after the obfuscation work. This level of uniformity is typical of life all deriving from the same genetic code building blocks. At the same time, this is not typical of rock and soil or ice mass geology in Saturn’s rings. For example, it is well known that the rings are made up of particles from the size of mere specks to the size of large homes and larger. That kind of variance is not represented here in these anomalous bright objects.

Water is without a doubt the enabling factor here both in the form of liquid and ice. Consider this, water is a combination of H20. Both hydrogen and oxygen individually or together can be used as sources of power not to mention constituting the body fluids of living tissue. It is within the realm of reason that some life forms originating in a water environment originally could over time evolve and develop into self propelling their way via expenditure of that power in nearby space and through out Saturn’s rings harvesting water ice in the thinner material as they go and those within range returning to these great Enceladus liquid water jetting events cruising through the water plumes to take on larger more satisfying loads.

It is also within reason that such creatures starting out life in water depths without sunlight and in complete darkness under an mud top surface frozen cover would likely develop bioluminescence in order to communicate with others of its kind, find mates, compensate for freezing space conditions, and deal with predators just as we see in the deepest darkest parts of our Earth oceans. As they evolve to live out of the water, they just exchange one form of swimming for another.

The above 8th image is drawn from yet another Cassini N00163969 raw image. I’ve included it here just so that you can see more evidence of the objects against a space only background and to demonstrate that this kind of evidence is typical in the Cassini imaging near Enceladus and within Saturn’s rings. Note once again the objects and their different light producing effect from object to object. Note also the great many “stars” in the background that, if they are life extracted from the scene, may be evidence of immense schools of these creatures and just how numerous they really are in “empty” space.

The above 9th image is just a section of the 8th image blown up 400% to demonstrate the “stars” in the background. Although you can also see the dimmer always present noise artifacts in this background, note how the brighter “artifacts” cluster around the “stars” that are actually empty pixels left behind when something was extracted from the image at these many points. Now look back at the 7th, 8th and 9th (below) images and think about how numerous these are. This is what happens when a location in a digital image is disturbed by subsequent spot specific manipulation.

The above 10th image evidence is drawn from yet another Cassini N00163126 raw image. I believe that it demonstrates the objects straightened out and underway all in the same direction like a school of fish. Again, note that some are generating an inner light source and some are not. I believe that objects with a slight curve to them represents objects generally at rest even though they may or may not be completely stopped.

I suspect that objects straightened out as you see above indicates exerting power and underway. This factor implies that these objects are likely organic in their composition so typical of life. It also implies that they can change their shape to some extent.

The above final 11th image is a scene taken of Enceladus during a water jet event backlit by the Sun. It demonstrates a couple of things. First, it demonstrates the full extent of expansion into space of the water geyser event from the south polar region not adequately shown by the raw black and white imaging and just how extensive a deal it really is. Second, it shows the objects pointed out with the yellow arrows. Note that all of these are straightened out and likely underway going through this water plume event tending to back up my own speculations.

I know that all of this is a lot for some of you to take in including even some of you with more open minds. After all, how can something alive exist in the emptiness even vacuum of space?

The fact is that I first brought this possibility to you attention in my 2009 Report #170 because of the visual evidence. If this is truly life, then its behavior suggests an aquatic schooling origin like schooling fish and Enceladus may even be its ancestral home. Some of the visual evidence suggests even more complexity in that this life may be a cooperative schooling form that can also join with others of its kind cooperatively and change its over all visual appearance in the process.

Life in space, despite the human preconception against it, is not a new way out idea. For example, there is NASA’s own STS-75 The Tether incident where an electro dynamic tether to generate power in space experiment was deployed in space where nothing by conventional thinking should be able to live. Yet the tether broke off via an unexpected power surge and still producing power began to be surrounded by swarming “some things” that clearly appeared to be disc shaped living objects.

You could tell that the astronauts were stunned and initially at a loss for words just watching the swarming. When mission ground control broke in and asked what these things were, the reporting astronaut tried to pass it off as debris coming off of the spacecraft even though these large objects were at least 77 miles away and in movement behind the tether from the spacecraft camera. In other words, the objects were likely bigger than the spacecraft itself and could not possibly be “debris.”

In my opinion, the only thing that is hard to believe about this incident is the completely foolish human explanation with more obvious holes in it than a big hunk of swiss cheese. If the tether principle was really abandoned by NASA, it is more likely because its radiating power attracted too many life forms feeding on that power with unknown consequences.

Some and especially the most innocent scientists will no doubt scoff at this as the most ridiculous kind of speculation pointing out that the great majority of the science communities would love to make scientific history by discovering life on other worlds including even in space and that there is no chance that they would deny it to public consumption. Further, I would even agree with most of that in general.

However, what they are failing in their naivety to take into consideration is that space, UFOs, and alien research and exploration is also big business here on Earth building vast fortunes empowering those that have ascended to oligarchy world control status. They police their own and to fall from such exalted heights is too much of a horror for them to contemplate. Most in government and science are but mere employees of oligarchy choosing. Worse, they own all the most important communication pathways like the major media and they in a round about way control most of the military including military and civilian intelligence communities.

For example, if someone under their influence (and who isn’t) gets hold of an alien craft as crap happens for aliens just as it does for us. The technological gains that are its potential equates directly to world wide military advantage, money, and power. The same if someone under their influence gets hold of an alien or aliens or just negotiates in secret with them. For them, it’s all about wealth, power, and control and everything to that end is expedient.

As they see it, the double edge of the sword is that on one edge aliens and their advanced technology exists with its power potential drawing them with their focus on self like mindless flies to honey. Yet, on the other edge, is the potential for interference from populations that tend to be more idealistic and want to argue about right and wrong for all concerned. What the science community doesn’t seem to understand is that idealism and altruism are regarded by oligarchy as completely unrealistic and foolish and a waste of their time.

What the oligarchy knows is that admitting to any kind of life beyond the confines of Earth or for that matter intelligent alien life here on Earth, leads to an opening of the mind and what it will consider next. It’s like you can’t be just a little bit pregnant, you either are or you aren’t. Right now denial among populations and the science communities is the norm and the oligarchy has worked long and hard at considerable expense to create this prevalent social condition. They don’t want to abandon it because it will ultimately mean interference with what they do within the protection of secrecy as too many others not under their control start to become involved.

Yet, the very technology advantage that has been such a primary mover in making them, is also undermining them. As greater and greater communication among populations advances, the secrecy that shields the oligarchy is also undermined and is looking at collapse. Their own AI super computer modeling, assuming they are feeding it objective material, without a doubt predicts this. We out here in the populations are right on the cusp of this happening in our time.

So Mr. scientist they are running scared and they will try to prevent as long as possible that knowledge door from opening within you and you beginning to wake up. Meanwhile they are trying to figure out a way to survive what is coming and preserve their exalted positions of power. So they keep you and your work confined and compartmentalized so that you can’t see the true big picture. For the few that this doesn’t work on, they create a false big picture for you to focus on while the real picture remains solely out of your sight and within their control.

The bottom line is that their proven success formula historically requires secrecy as well as your and our ignorance. Unless they can develop a different successful formula that they can be willing to try in their self isolation, they can’t afford for you or I to wake up and open the door to idealistic interference problems for them. The trouble from their point of view is that the admission of water in what we would consider normal conditions on the surface of a world leads to the consideration of biological life on that surface and that in turn of course leads to the consideration of intelligent and even advanced life and of course we aren’t ignorant and in their control any more.

I know that many of you on all sides don’t want to face this but we’re now long past the point of no return and it’s too late to clamp down or turn back the tide now. The collapse of most of this particular brand of secrecy on our world is immanent and the general science and population ignorance so long entrenched is going to fall away with it. The level of technological advancement guarantees it. The key is to adapt now or suffer the consequences.

Joseph P. Skipper

Should We Terraform Mars? A Debate

This is a part of a debate organised by NASA. Science Fiction Meets Science Fact. ‘What are the real possibilities, as well as the potential ramifications, of transforming Mars?’ Terraform debaters left to right, Greg Bear , author of such books as “Moving Mars” and “Darwin’s Radio.”; David Grinspoon , planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute; James Kasting , geoscientist at Pennsylvania State University; Christopher McKay , planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research Center.; Lisa Pratt , biogeochemist at Indiana University; Kim Stanley Robinson , author of the “Mars Trilogy” (“Red Mars,” “Green Mars” and “Blue Mars“); John Rummel , planetary protection officer for NASA; moderator Donna Shirley , former manager of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Donna Shirley: Greg, what are the ethics of exploring Mars?

Greg Bear: You usually talk about ethics within your own social group. And if you define someone as being outside your social group, they’re also outside your ethical system, and that’s what’s caused so much trauma, as we seem to be unable to recognize people who look an awful lot like us as being human beings.

When we go to Mars, we’re actually dealing with a problem that’s outside the realm of ethics and more in the realm of enlightened self-interest. We have a number of reasons for preserving Mars as it is. If there’s life there, it’s evolved over the last several billion years, it’s got incredible solutions to incredible problems. If we just go there and willy-nilly ramp it up or tamp it down or try to remold it somehow, we’re going to lose that information. So that’s not to our best interest.

We were talking earlier about having a pharmaceutical expedition to Mars, not just that but a chemical expedition to Mars, people coming and looking for solutions to incredible problems that could occur here on Earth and finding them on Mars. That could generate income unforeseen.

If we talk about ethical issues on a larger scale of how are other beings in the universe going to regard how we treat Mars, that’s a question for Arthur C. Clarke to answer, I think. That’s been more his purview: the large, sometimes sympathetic eye staring at us and judging what we do.

We really have to look within our own goals and our own heart here. And that means we have to stick within our social group, which at this point includes the entire planet. If we decide that Mars is, in a sense, a fellow being, that the life on Mars, if we discover them – and I think that we will discover that Mars is alive – is worthy of protection, then we have to deal with our own variations in ethical judgment.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Why should we go to Mars, because look at what human beings have done to Earth.'” -David Grinspoon
Image Credit: NASA

The question is, if it’s an economic reality that Mars is extraordinarily valuable, will we do what we did in North America and Africa and South America and just go there and wreak havoc? And we have to control our baser interests, which is, as many of us have found out recently, very hard to do in this country. So we have a lot of problems to deal with here, internal problems. Because not everyone will agree on an ethical decision and that’s the real problem with making ethical decisions.

Donna Shirley: David, you want to comment on the ethics of terraforming Mars?

David Grinspoon:
Well, one comment I’ve heard about recently, partly in response to the fact that the president has recently proposed new human missions to Mars – of course, that’s not terraforming, but it is human activities on Mars – and I’ve heard a lot of people say, “Why should we go to Mars, because look at what human beings have done to Earth. Look at how badly we’re screwing it up. Look at the human role on Earth. Why should we take our presence and go screw up other places?”

It’s an interesting question, and it causes me to think about the ethics of the human role elsewhere. What are we doing in the solar system, what should we be doing? But, it’s very hard for me to give up on the idea. Maybe because I read too much science fiction when I was a kid, I do have, I have to admit, this utopian view of a long-term human future in space. I think that if we find life on Mars, the ethical question’s going to be much more complicated.

But in my view, I think we’re going to find that Mars does not have life. We may have fossils there. I think it’s the best place in the solar system to find fossils. Of course, I could be wrong about this and I’d love to be wrong about it, and that’s why we need to explore. If the methane observation is borne out, it would be, to me, the first sign that I really have to rethink this, that maybe there is something living there under the ice.

“If the methane observation is borne out, maybe there is something living there under the ice.-David Grinspoon
Image Credit: NASA

But let’s assume for a second that Mars really is dead, and we’ve explored Mars very carefully – and this is not a determination we’ll be able to make without a lot more exploration – but assuming it was, then what about this question. Should human beings go to Mars, because do we deserve to, given what we’ve done to Earth? And to me, the analogy is of a vacant lot versus planting a garden. If Mars is really dead, then to me it’s like a vacant lot, where we have the opportunity to plant a garden. I think, in the long run, that we should.

We’ve heard a lot different possible motivations, economic motivations, or curiosity, but I think ultimately the motivation should be out of love for life, and wanting there to be more life where there’s only death and desolation. And so I think that ethically, in the long run, if we really learn enough to say that Mars is dead, then the ethical imperative is to spread life and bring a dead world to life.

Donna Shirley: Jim, we can’t prove a negative, so how do we know if there’s life or not, if we keep looking and looking and looking. How long should we look? How would we make that decision?

James Kasting: I think Lisa put us on the right track initially. She’s studying subsurface life on Earth. If there’s life on Mars today, it’s subsurface. I think it’s deep subsurface, a kilometer or two down. So I think we do need humans on Mars, because we need them up there building big drilling rigs to drill down kilometers depth and do the type of exploration that Lisa and her group is doing on Earth here. I think that’s going to take not just decades, but probably a couple of centuries before we can really get a good feel for that.

Lake Vostok.
Image Credit: NASA

Donna Shirley: Well, I know, John, at Lake Vostok, one of the big issues is, if we drill into it, our dirty drilling rigs are going to contaminate whatever’s down there. So how do we drill without worrying about contaminating something if it is there?

John Rummel: Well, you accept a little contamination probabilistically that you can allow operations and still try to prevent it. I mean, basically what we can do is try to prevent that which we don’t want to have happen. We can’t ever have a guarantee. The easiest way to prevent the contamination of Mars is to stay here in this room. Or someplace close by.

Greg Bear: That’s known as abstinence.

John Rummel: [laughs]. I also want to point out it’s not necessarily the case that the first thing you want to do on Mars, even if there’s no life, is to change it. We don’t know the advantages of the martian environment. It’s a little bit like the people who go to Arizona for their allergies and start planting crabgrass right off. They wonder why they get that. And it may be that Mars as it is has many benefits. I started working here at NASA Ames as a postdoc with Bob McElroy on controlled ecological life-support systems. There’s a lot we can do with martian environments inside before we move out to the environment of Mars and try to mess with it. So I would highly recommend that not only do we do a thorough job with robotic spacecraft on Mars, but we do a thorough job living inside and trying to figure out what kind of a puzzle Mars presents.

The ALH Meteorite.
Image Credit: NASA/ Johnson Space Center

Donna Shirley: Stan, you dealt with this issue in your book with the Reds versus the Greens. What are some of the ethics of making decisions about terraforming Mars?

Kim Stanley Robinson: Ah, the Reds versus the Greens. This is a question in environmental ethics that has been completely obscured by this possibility of life on Mars.

After the Viking mission, and for about a decade or so, up to the findings of the ALH meteorite, where suddenly martian bacteria were postulated again, we thought of Mars as being a dead rock. And yet there were still people who were very offended at the idea of us going there and changing it, even though it was nothing but rock. So this was an interesting kind of limit case in environmental ethics, because this sense of what has standing. People of a certain class had standing, then all the people had standing, then the higher mammals had standing – in each case it’s sort of an evolutionary process where, in an ethical sense, more and more parts of life had standing, and need consideration and ethical treatment from us. They aren’t just there to be used.

When you get to rock, it seemed to me that there would be very few people (wanting to preserve it). And yet, when I talked about my project, when I was writing it, it was an instinctive thing, that Mars has its own, what environment ethicists would call, “intrinsic worth,” even as a rock. It’s a pretty interesting position. And I had some sympathy for it, because I like rocky places myself. If somebody proposed irrigating and putting forests in Death Valley, I would think of this as a travesty. I have many favorite rockscapes, and a lot of people do.

So, back and forth between Red and Green, and one of the reasons I think that my book was so long was that it was just possible to imagine both sides of this argument for a very long time. And I never really did reconcile it in my own mind except that it seemed to me that Mars offered the solution itself. If you think of Mars as a dead rock and you think it has intrinsic worth, it should not be changed, then you look at the vertical scale of Mars and you think about terraforming, and there’s a 31-kilometer difference between the highest points on Mars and the lowest. I reckoned about 30 percent of the martian surface would stay well above an atmosphere that people could live in, in the lower elevations. So maybe you could have it both ways. I go back and forth on this teeter-totter. But of course now it’s a kind of an older teeter-totter because we have a different problem now.

Links: Colonization of mars[Are We Going To Colonize Mars?]

Debate over Arsenic Bacteria: A Skeptic’s Viewpoint

Probably all of you have received the news of newly discovered so called ‘Arsenic Bacterium’ that replaced phosphorus with highly toxic Arsenic. Researchers conducting tests in the harsh environment of Mono Lake in California have discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in its cell components. The definition of life has just expanded.

[Image Details: This scanning electron micrograph shows a strain of the arsenic-eating bacterium called GFAJ-1. Credit: Science/AAAS.]
This finding of an alternative biochemistry makeup will alter biology textbooks and expand the scope of the search for life beyond Earth. Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur are the six basic building blocks of all known forms of life on Earth. Phosphorus is part of the chemical backbone of DNA and RNA, the structures that carry genetic instructions for life, and is considered an essential element for all living cells. Phosphorus is a central component of the energy-carrying molecule in all cells (adenosine triphosphate) and also the phospholipids that form all cell membranes. Arsenic, whichis chemically similar to phosphorus, is poisonous for most life on Earth. Arsenic disrupts metabolic pathways because chemically it behaves similarly to phosphate.

The newly discovered microbe, strain GFAJ-1, is a member of a common group of bacteria, the Gammaproteobacteria. In the laboratory, the researchers successfully grew microbes from the lake on a diet that was very lean on phosphorus, but included generous helpings of arsenic. When researchers removed the phosphorus and replaced it with arsenic the microbes continued to grow. Subsequent analyses indicated that the arsenic was being used to produce the building blocks of new GFAJ-1 cells. The key issue the researchers investigated was when the microbe was grown on arsenic did the arsenic actually became incorporated into the organisms’ vital biochemical machinery, such as DNA, proteins and the cell membranes. A variety of sophisticated laboratory techniques was used to determine where the arsenic was incorporated.

This was big news, since scientists had regarded phosphorus as one of six key ingredients — along with carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur — that all life on Earth needs to survive. But over the weekend, some outside scientists began to question the team’s findings. Some aren’t convinced that GFAJ-1 actually takes arsenic up into its DNA, saying that the researchers may have just detected arsenic stuck to the outside of the microbe’s DNA. Other researchers contend that the growth medium contained enough phosphorus — as a contaminant — for GFAJ-1 to scratch out a living without having to swap it out for arsenic. Microbes are known to subsist on minuscule amounts of phosphorus elsewhere, such as the Sargasso Sea, critics said. And other scientists pointed out that arsenate compounds are extremely unstable in water, breaking down in minutes without some kind of compensatory stabilizing mechanism, such as special molecules to keep the compound intact. Wolfe-Simon and her teamdunked GFAJ-1 in water during the analysis process, yet the microbe’s DNA didn’t get sliced into many tiny pieces — it remained in large chunks.

This further hints that the microbe’s DNA contained the”normal” phosphate rather than arsenate, some said. I don’t know how skeptical they are. Why to flourish your mind just into possibility? Critics need to repeat the experiment themselves and challenge the findings reported in journal. It is how really science works rather making vague arguments and airing absurd speculations even after declaring the specifications. Some also argued that it is however, not so possible as it would be disintegrated immediately in presence of water.

“I think we had enough to get the point out,” Oremland said.”Certainly the [paper’s] reviewers liked it, and now the community is going to judge.”
He also said the small amount of phosphorus present in the growth medium as a contaminant wasn’t as big a dealas the paper’s critics have alleged.
“There’s a smidgen of phosphorus in the medium,” he said. “We didn’t do anything fancy to get rid of it. But it’s not enough to sustain growth. That’s very clear.”
“They may prove us wrong, or they may reproduce the results and find new stuff,” he said. “It’s the way the process works.”

I’m agree with Oremland’s view. Skeptics need to repeat experiment and should repeat their findings rather airing dubious speculations. If they can prove their results wrong, it would be welcomed.

[Credit: Nasa and LiveScience]

Is Panspermia Occurring Right Now?

Panspermia is said to be one of  the possible ways for evolution of  life on Earth. The theory of panspermia suggests that life did not originate on Earth, but instead came from space. The possibility that life originated here on Earth, but was supplemented by space-derived microorganisms also cannot be ruled out. Another variant of panspermia, “neopanspermia” refers to the contemporary arrival of life from space. The idea that life originated from space has a long history, while the theory of neopanspermia is relatively new. However, the entire concept of panspermia, in its modern guise is based on the seminal work of Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe. Until recently most of the work on panspermia has been theoretical. However, there is now laboratory evidence to support the view that microbes can be transferred across the cosmos, and which suggests that, at this moment, life is entering the Earth’s atmosphere from space.

One might imagine that the proposition that life is incoming to Earth from space could be easily be demonstrated, simply by sampling space at a height above the Earth where there is no possibility of contamination from below. One also might have assumed that NASA or another space agency would have looked for the presence of microbes in near space and would have determined at what height above the Earth’s surface they eventually peter out. This has not happened. Surprisingly, despite all the billions spent of space research we still do not know how high the Earth’s biosphere extends into space, nor have answers been provided to the apparently simple question- are microorganisms present in near space?

The highest point at which we know that microbial life exists is 77 km. However, we know nothing about the biology, if it exists, at heights above this. If microorganisms continue to be isolated as at even greater heights then there must come a point when it is acknowledged that they are incoming to Earth from space. The existence of a stratospheric biosphere may have had an important effect on the evolution of life on Earth. Any bacteria transferred from Earth to the stratosphere will be exposed to high levels of mutagenic UV rays and other forms of radiation. Such exposure will induce mutations in bacteria passing into the stratosphere. The ability of UV to cause mutations in microbial genome has long been recognised, and is used in biotechnology to improve the production of important biochemicals like penicillin. Moreover, the ability of the effected host to survive in varied environments can also be impacted. For example, UV induced mutations in Lactobacillus enables them to survive high concentrations of sodium chloride and sodium nitrate. Thus, mutations may pave the way for bacteria to colonize even toxic planets.

Therefore, naturally enhanced mutation in the stratosphere may speed up evolution rates in microbes which survive a period of UV exposure in this region and then return to Earth. This would also be true of microbes which arrive on Earth from space. Such mutagenesis will be far greater than that which occurs on Earth, where the amount of UV is reduced by the atmosphere, clouds, and the ozone layer.

The high cold biosphere may therefore act as a huge mutation- generator, a vast laboratory where new microbial genomes are created and returned to Earth where this new “information” can be promiscuously transferred to microbes which have not journeyed to the stratosphere. This process may be ongoing with microorganisms being continually returned to the stratosphere for a new dose of mutagenic radiation.

The acquisition of an atmosphere and ozone layer was absolutely essential for the development of complex multicellular life on Earth, thereby allowing life to explore and conquer diverse environments and to evolve and diversify. However, this protective layer also reduced the level of mutagenesis in prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Given that the protective ozone layer was not sufficiently established until around 540 million years ago, coupled with the explosion of complex life which followed, it could be said that UV-induced mutagenesis may have promoted microbial evolution and diversity for the first 4 billion years of Earth’s history, but hindered eukaryotic evolutionary development.

Critics of panspermia often erroneous claim that it is impossible for naked bacteria to survive the transfer from space to Earth, because of problems related to ionising, and, particularly, UV radiation.  There is now considerable evidence demonstrating that bacteria can survive UV radiation, and a journey from Earth to space and back again. Resistance to UV for even a short period of time would allow a bacterium to survive when the protective cosmic dust covering is partially exposed, until a new UV-protective dust cover is formed. In this way, a bacterium which can survive direct exposure to UV would be at a competitive advantage over one that was not; of course, if a bacterium remained permanently covered by an impenetrable UV-protective layer of cosmic dust or carbonised cells then it could remain viable in the absence of any native UV resistance.

In a research paper by Jeff  Secker published in arxiv.org suggest that the traditional idea of radiopanspermia is valid if micro-organisms (bacteria and viruses) are shielded inside grainswhose material blocks significant UV radiation, and are ejected into space in the late stagesof a (one-solar-mass) star’s life. Coupled with recent discoveries supporting other aspects of panspermia and their result suggested that the probability for life in any given solar system has increased.

Three different micro-organisms were considered in these calculations. The Micrococcusradiophilus is the most radiation-resistant bacteria known at this time, and it is therefore alogical candidate for this radiopanspermia. The Staphylococcus minimus is a very commonbacteria which is much smaller than the Micrococcus radiophilus. As well, the virus weconsidered combined properties of both the T1 Bacteriophage and the phage C-36. Sun’s UV radiation is considerably more harmful than its ionizing radiation, and it is so intense at the present time that it effectively inactivates all exposed micro-organisms. This situation might be avoided if the micro-organisms are embedded in dust grains. This might be a natural thing, depending on how they are put into space, through UV processing of a thin surface skin of organic matter, or through interactions and accretion of carbon-rich interplanetary dust particles. It is noteworthy that in interstellar space the intensity of radiation is many orders of less than it is in the vicinity of sun.
Microbes in stratosphere An experimental balloon flown by a team of scientists from ISRO, Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS) and Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR) discovered twelve bacterial and six fungal colonies at heights ranging from 20 to 41 km.[Source: Marinews]
Now that the existence of a stratospheric bacterial has been established the next obvious question is- from where do these organisms originate; from Earth or from space? The application of Occam’s razor suggests that since these are microbes are commonly found on Earth they must have an Earth origin. There exists however, the possibility that some, at least, originate from space and that a mixed population of bacteria exists in the stratosphere, some outgoing from Earth and some incoming from space. A number of other mechanisms have been suggested by which bacteria might be carried into the stratosphere, including blue lightening, gravitophotophoresis and electrostatic action. However, it appears unlikely that any of these mechanisms would be capable of carrying a particle of a diameter exceeding 1micron, i.e. the usual size of bacteria when grown on nutrient–rich laboratory media.
The presence of  Fungi in Stratosphere The presence of fungi in the stratosphere presents an even greater enigma than does the presence of bacteria. This is because fungal hyphae and spores are generally much larger than bacteria, Fungal spores range from around 5 microns, for species of Penicillium, to 100 microns for species of Alternaria, both of which have been isolated from the stratosphere.
Clearly, under known mechanisms, it is extremely difficult to explain how these fungi reach the stratosphere. In the case of samples obtained at 41km, the sampling protocols used excluded the possibility of elevation by volcanic action. Therefore we are left with the reality that sections of fungal hyphae and, or spores can reach the stratosphere via unknown mechanisms. If these unknown mechanism include monsoons, then it is difficult to understand they selectively target large particles which are lifted to the stratosphere. This suggests that fungi may be incoming from the stratosphere. The idea that eukaryotes are incoming to Earth from space is probably even less acceptable to most microbiologists than is the idea that bacteria can make the same journey. The presence of fungi in the stratosphere therefore presents us with an even greater enigma than does the presence of bacteria.
Are these organisms being transferred from Earth to heights above 41km, or are they incoming to Earth from space? If we accept that the tropopause effectively acts as a barrier to the upward movement of particles of the size of bacteria and fungi we need to explain how these organisms can reach the stratosphere from Earth, especially in the cases where volcanic transfer has been excluded. One way of avoiding this problem is to assume that ultrasmall forms of bacteria and fungi are carried up into the stratosphere by some mechanism, such as monsoons. If this is the case, then we would expect to find ultrasmall bacteria, known to exist in the Earth’s oceans to be the dominant bacteria isolated from the stratosphere, and this is not the case. The alternative possibility is that the bacteria and fungi present in the stratosphere are incoming from space to Earth; a hypothesis which would probably be dismissed by most microbiologists who instead might argue that there exists an unknown mechanism for transporting particles of the size of bacterial and fungal components up to the stratosphere.
The best explanation for the mixed population of microorganisms which exists in the stratosphere, is that some are incoming to Earth from space (as represented by the observed particle masses in excess of 10 microns) and some are moving in the opposite direction. It is possible that the incoming bacteria may make up a considerable portion of the viable, but non-culturable, bacteria found on Earth. Although the findings presented above do not prove that bacteria and fungi are incoming to Earth from space, the evidence seems to favor this proposition and the reality of neopansermia.
[Ref: Astrophysical and Biological Constraints on Radiopanspermia by Jeff Secker and  Are Microbes Currently Arriving to Earth from Space? by Milton Wainwright]

This Is How Life On Earth Began?

After the big bang planet started to evolved. Then life emerged from randomness and due to carbon water combo or life came from extraterrestrial planet? Billions of years before Earth or our solar system were formed, space-journeying viruses and extraterrestrial microbes were deposited on planet after planet and continually exchanged DNA with species living on other worlds. There are various evidences which shows that life on space could be created from space dust. The sharing and acquisition of DNA was accomplished through horizontal gene exchange, exactly as takes place on Earth . Thus, viruses and extraterrestrial microbes obtained copies of essential genes from the genomes of whatever simple and advanced life forms they encountered. Therefore, innumerable extraterrestrial microbial species developed vast genetic libraries, comprised of DNA from innumerable species from innumerable planets. And these genetic libraries came to be stored in viral packets of RNA and DNA. The descendants of these microbes, accompanied by viruses and their vast depositories of genes, eventually fell to Earth.

Microbes are perfectly adapted for journeying through space, abilities they inherited and did not randomly evolve and this doesn’t seem obsolete. They can easily survive a violent hypervelocity impact and extreme acceleration and ejection from the planetary surface into space including extreme shock pressures of 100 GPa; the frigid temperatures and vacuum of an interstellar environment; the UV rays, cosmic rays, gamma rays, and ionizing radiation they would encounter; and the landing onto the surface of a planet . Moreover, they can form spores and awaken after hundred of millions of years have passed.

The bacterial genome contains genes which enable microbes to immediately adapt to toxic environments , enabling them to survive in otherwise deadly habitats . Now we have compelling evidences as to how these microbes flourished in early hydro carbon lakes?Therefore, these prokaryotes can quickly adapt almost regardless of planet, and which explains why these extremeophiles are able to proliferate and flourish in almost every conceivable environment, be it pools of radioactive waste, subzero temperatures, boiling hot springs, miles beneath Earth or at the bottom of the sea.

Archae hyperthermophiles

Likewise, simple eukaryotes including lichens, fungi and algae can survive exposure to massive UV and cosmic radiation and the vacuum of space. Many of these species, including bacteria can rebuild their genomes even if shattered by radiation.

As is evident in our own solar system, and the study of extrasolar worlds, most planets and moons have environments so completely different and unlike Earth that most Earthly-eukaryotes would be unable to survive. However, the same is not true of microbes, archae and extremophiles in particular, which are able to thrive almost regardless of conditions, including those never before encountered on Earth. It is the extraterrestrial genetic inheritance of these microbes which makes survival within extreme enivironments possible and this is because the ancestors of these microbes obtained the necessary genes from creatures which had thrived under the harsh, toxic, adverse and poisonous conditions of other planets and those of nebular clouds and cosmic debris.

For example, prior to the 1930s, poisonous pools of radioactive waste did not exist on Earth, and yet, in 1958, physicists discovered clouds of bacteria, ranging from two million bacteria per cm3 and over 1 billion per quart, thriving with pools of radioactive waste, directly exposed to radiation levels millions of times greater than could have ever before been experienced on this planet .

Many species of microbe can withstand X-rays and atomic radiation, and are radiation resistant. These include Deinococcus radiodurans, D. proteolyticus, D. radiopugnans, D. radiophilus, D. grandis, D. indicus, D. frigens, D. saxicola, D. marmola, D. geothermalis, D. murrayi.

The genes providing this resistance and which make it possible to thrive in toxic environments did not randomly evolve. These genes were inherited and made it possible for these and other microbes to survive if they are exposed to poisonous, and radioactive environments similar to those experienced on other planets or while journeying through space.

Consider the relatively recent invention of antibiotics. Atibiotic resistance genes are maintained within the genomes of various bacteria , and these genes enable them to survive exposure even before they are exposed to these substances . Bacteria recovered from remote, isolated regions of the world, and which have never been exposed to antibiotics carry antibiotic resistant genes . These genes did not suddenly mutate after exposure, they were inherited and existed prior to the invention of antibiotics, drugs, and other toxins.

Various species of bacteria have large genomes which enables them to maintain an extensive genetic library of inherited genes, and these genes, when activated in response to specific environmental triggers, allows them to colonize different environments , including those which are radioactive, poisonous, or toxic. In fact, these genes allow microbes not just to flourish, but to secrete specific biodegradative enzymes which target toxins and poisons, and even newly invented antibiotics, and use them as a food resource . It is this genetic library, obtained from ancestral extraterrestrial species, which provides these microbes with the ability to live in almost any environment, and to colonize toxic habitats .

If we accept the basic premise of “natural selection” then the existence, inheritance, and preservation of these genes indicates exposure and adaption prior to exposure on Earth.

Since these genes existed prior to exposure on Earth, then this means the ancestors of these species were exposed to these substances and environments prior to arriving on Earth, i.e. an extraterrestrial source. Thus due to the inheritance of these genes  a wide range of microbes are able to flourish in almost any toxic habitat such as might be encountered on other worlds.

Therefore, microbial creatures, and their DNA, are perfectly adapted for traveling from planet to planet and from solar system to solar system, and have evolved the ability to survive in almost any environment, and this is how life on Earth began.

[ref:Journal Of Cosmology]

Could There Be Life On Every Planets?

How complex could a extraterrestrial life be, this is the question which is mind boggling. If you are going to search for life on other planets, you must  have to assume the basic prospects of life. Lately we have found multicellular creature lurking under harshest condition on planet Earth. Is life only the thing which is to be so complex and does complexity mean life?

The critical question is:Is life the only type of material complexity expected in other habitable zones, or is life only one example of many types of complexity? In other words, is or is not life an inevitable consequence of the evolution of matter? Given the proper conditions and enough time, is life a sure bet or is it quite rare?

Current research seeks to understand how complexity arises from simplicity. Much progress has been made in the past few decades, but a good appreciation for some of the most important chemical steps that led to life still eludes us. That’s because life itself is extraordinarily complex, much more so than galaxies, stars, or planets.

Consider, for a moment, the simplest known protein on Earth. This is insulin, which has 51 amino acids linked in a specific order along a chain. Probability theory can be used to estimate the chances of assembling the correct number and order of amino acids for such a protein molecule. Since there are 20 different types of amino acids, the answer is 1/2051, which equals ~1/1066. This means that the 20 amino acids must be randomly assembled 1066, or a million trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion, times before getting insulin. This is obviously a great many combinations, so many in fact that we could randomly assemble the 20 amino acids trillions of times per second for the entire history of the Universe and still not achieve the correct ordering of this protein. Larger proteins and nucleic acids would be even less probable if chemical evolution operates at random. And to assemble a human being would be vastly less probable, if it happened by chance starting only with atoms or simple molecules.

This is the type of reasoning used by some researchers—especially biochemists—to argue that we must be alone, or nearly so, in the Universe. They suggest that biology of any kind is a highly unlikely phenomenon. They argue that meaningful molecular complexity can be expected at only a very, very few locations in the Universe, and that Earth is one of these special places. And since, in their view, the fraction of habitable planets on which life arises is extremely small, the number of advanced civilizations now in the Galaxy must be even smaller. Of all the myriad galaxies, stars, planets, and other wonderful aspects of the Universe, this viewpoint maintains that we are among very few creatures to appreciate the grandeur of it all. If their arguments are correct, we could be alone in the Universe.

But does chemical evolution operate at random, that is, by chance and chance alone? Alas, there’s another point of view—one often preferred by astrophysicists. Several reasons suggest that the change from simplicity to complexity may not proceed randomly. The first reason is this: Of the billions upon billions of basic organic groupings that could possibly occur on Earth from the random combinations of all sorts of simple atoms and molecules, only ~1500 actually do occur. Furthermore, these 1500 organic groups of terrestrial biology are made from only ~50 simple organic molecules, including the known amino acids and nucleotide bases. This implies that molecules critical to life aren’t assembled randomly by chance. Apparently, the electromagnetic forces at work at the microscopic level remove some of the randomness by guiding the molecules into certain, specific linkages.

Direct laboratory experiments support this alternative view. Simulations that resemble conditions on primordial Earth are now routinely performed with a variety of energies and initial reactants (provided there’s no free oxygen). These experiments demonstrate that unique (or even rare) conditions are unnecessary to produce the precursors of life. Complex acids, bases, and proteinoid compounds are formed under a rather wide variety of physical conditions. And it doesn’t take long for these reasonably complex molecules to form—not nearly as long as probability theory predicts by randomly assembling atoms.

Furthermore, every time this type of experiment is done, the results are much the same. The oily organic matter trapped in the test tube always yields the same proportion of acids, bases and rich proteinoids. If chemical evolution were entirely random, we might expect a different result each time the experiment is run. Apparently, electromagnetic forces do govern the complex interactions of the many atoms and molecules in the soupy sea, substituting organization for randomness.

Of course, precursors of proteins and nucleic acids are a long way from life itself. But the beginnings of life as we know it seem to be the product of less-than-random interactions among atoms and molecules. That’s important to know. Just how nonrandom—that is, how common—life itself might be is unknown.

An important caveat deserves mention here. Even if life everywhere in the Universe is based on carbon chemistry and obeys the basic laws of biology familiar to us, we shouldn’t be foolish enough to think that organisms elsewhere would evolve to look like us anatomically. Life forms on other planets—even carbonaceous organisms operating in a watery medium—would likely experience a wholly different set of environmental and genetic changes. The mechanism of biological evolution, with its mutations, natural selection, and adaptations functioning over long durations of time, would guarantee little outward resemblance to life on Earth.

So what do we choose as a numerical estimate for the fraction of habitable planets on which life actually arises? Either the number is much smaller than 1 if chance has a big influence. Or the number is close to or equal to 1 if chance plays no appreciable role. The former view suggests that life arises naturally, though rarely, whereas the latter view maintains that life is virtually inevitable given the proper ingredients, suitable environments, and long enough periods of time. No easy experiment can distinguish between these alternatives.

What we really need is a laboratory where organic chemistry has been left alone for a few billion years. What transpires there could help us decide the degree of randomness inherent in the molecular reactions. Fortunately, some of the nearby planets or their moons provide us with just such a laboratory, and a most interesting period of exploration will unfold as our spacecraft probe them for signs of life. In the minds of some researchers, the discovery of life on Mars, Europa, Titan, or some other object in our Solar System would convert the origin of life from an unlikely miracle to an ordinary statistic—to a value equal to or near 1 for this term of the equation.

In addition to “randomness” not being fully operational, other grounds tend to bolster the prospects for extraterrestrial life. One of these is that aliens could be based on something other than the carbon atom. Life “as we know it” is carbon-based life, operating in a water-based medium, with higher forms metabolizing oxygen. Yet once again, are we being chauvinistic by thinking that other types of biology are impossible? Perhaps so, but we’ve also noted several reasons why carbon-based life has more strength, diversity, and adaptability than any other.

Can we make an objective judgment of this factor in the Drake equation independent of our own prejudices? After all, chemists study Earth chemistry, not general chemistry. And biologists study the only kind of biology they know. Perhaps the alternatives haven’t yet been sufficiently investigated. At any rate, should biochemistries exist other than the carbon-in-water type, then the prospects for extraterrestrial life increase greatly. What we need now is ,just changing our searching tactics and be open minded.

Early Life Was Not Affected By Bombardment

The bombardment of Earth by asteroids 3.9 billion years ago may have enhanced early life.
Credit: NASA/JPL

The bombardment of Earth nearly 4 billion years ago by asteroids as large as Kansas would not have had the firepower to extinguish potential early life on the planet and may even have given it a boost, says a new University of Colorado at Boulder study.

Impact evidence from lunar samples, meteorites and the pockmarked surfaces of the inner planets paints a picture of a violent environment in the solar system during the Hadean Eon 4.5 to 3.8 billion years ago, particularly through a cataclysmic event known as the Late Heavy Bombardment about 3.9 million years ago. Although many believe the bombardment would have sterilized Earth, the new study shows it would have melted only a fraction of Earth’s crust, and that microbes could well have survived in subsurface habitats, insulated from the destruction.

These new results push back the possible beginnings of life on Earth to well before the bombardment period 3.9 billion years ago. It opens up the possibility that life emerged as far back as 4.4 billion years ago, about the time the first oceans are thought to have formed.

-CU-Boulder Research Associate Oleg Abramov

A paper on the subject by Abramov and CU-Boulder geological sciences Professor Stephen Mojzsis appears in the May 21 issue of Nature.

Because physical evidence of Earth’s early bombardment has been erased by weathering and plate tectonics over the eons, the researchers used data from Apollo moon rocks, impact records from the moon, Mars and Mercury, and previous theoretical studies to build three-dimensional computer models that replicate the bombardment. Abramov and Mojzsis plugged in asteroid size, frequency and distribution estimates into their simulations to chart the damage to the Earth during the Late Heavy Bombardment, which is thought to have lasted for 20 million to 200 million years.

The pock-marked surface of bodies in the inner solar system indicate that there was a period of frequent impacts suffered by the early Earth during the Hadean Eon 4.5 to 3.8 billion years ago.
Image Credit: ESA

The 3-D models allowed Abramov and Mojzsis to monitor temperatures beneath individual craters to assess heating and cooling of the crust following large impacts in order to evaluate habitability, said Abramov. The study indicated that less than 25 percent of Earth’s crust would have melted during such a bombardment.

The CU-Boulder researchers even cranked up the intensity of the asteroid barrage in their simulations by 10-fold — an event that could have vaporized Earth’s oceans. “Even under the most extreme conditions we imposed, Earth would not have been completely sterilized by the bombardment,” said Abramov.

Instead, hydrothermal vents may have provided sanctuaries for extreme, heat-loving microbes known as “hyperthermophilic bacteria” following bombardments, said Mojzsis. Even if life had not emerged by 3.9 billion years ago, such underground havens could still have provided a “crucible” for life’s origin on Earth, Mojzsis said.

The researchers concluded subterranean microbes living at temperatures ranging from 175 degrees to 230 degrees Fahrenheit would have flourished during the Late Heavy Bombardment. The models indicate that underground habitats for such microbes increased in volume and duration as a result of the massive impacts. Some extreme microbial species on Earth today — including so-called “unboilable bugs” discovered in hydrothermal vents in Yellowstone National Park — thrive at 250 F.

Geologic evidence suggests that life on Earth was present at least 3.83 billion years ago, said Mojzsis. “So it is not unreasonable to suggest there was life on Earth before 3.9 billion years ago. We know from the geochemical record that our planet was eminently habitable by that time, and this new study sews up a major problem in origins of life studies by sweeping away the necessity for multiple origins of life on Earth.”

An artist’s impression of a planet being sterilized by a continuous bombardment of comets and meteors. A new study shows that such impacts would not have completely sterilized the early Earth.
Credit: David Hardy

Most planetary scientists believe a rogue planet as large as Mars smacked Earth with a glancing blow 4.5 billion years ago, vaporizing itself and part of Earth. The collision would have created an immense vapor cloud from which moonlets, and later our moon, coalesced, Mojzsis said. “That event, which preceded the Late Heavy Bombardment by at least 500 million years, would have effectively hit Earth’s re-set button,” he said.

“But our results strongly suggest that no events since the moon formation were capable of destroying Earth’s crust and wiping out any biosphere that was present,” Mojzsis said. “Instead of chopping down the tree of life, our view is that the bombardment pruned it.”

The results also support the potential for microbial life on other planets like Mars and perhaps even rocky, Earth-like planets in other solar systems that may have been resurfaced by impacts, said Abramov.

“Exactly when life originated on Earth is a hotly debated topic,” says NASA’s Astrobiology Discipline Scientist Michael H. New, manager of the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology program. “These findings are significant because they indicate life could have begun well before the LHB, during the so-called Hadean Eon of Earth’s history 3.8 billion to 4.5 billion years ago.”


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