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Sunday, August 05, 2012

The Curiosity Rover and the quest for life on Mars

From The Washington Post;

Mars rover Curiosity on course to land Monday

PASADENA, Calif. - After a journey of 354 million miles to the outskirts of Mars, the Curiosity rover and its spacecraft are speeding up and coming under the influence of the planet’s gravity as it prepares for a dramatic landing early Monday.
NASA officials said early Sunday afternoon that the spacecraft was about 100,000 from Mars and remained in ideal shape. They also said its position in relation to the point selected to enter the atmosphere also is on target. The upcoming landing is one of the riskiest ever tried, with final descent that starts at 13,200 mph and ends after what NASA officials call “seven minutes of terror.”
For more click here.


That robot that will land on Mars, Monday, and try to look for evidence of life on the red planet. Normally I don’t support anything this government does, but this project may actually help us in the argument over evolution. The anti-evolution crowd wants us to believe that life is completely unique and divinely inspired.
According to these people; God divinely created live on Earth and the rest of the universe is simply there to impress human-kind.
Life on Mars would contradict some Creationists, such as Gary Bates, of Creation Ministries;

“It is often asked, ‘Just because the Bible teaches about God creating intelligent life only on Earth, why couldn’t He have done so elsewhere?’ After all, Scripture does not discuss everything, e.g. motorcars. However, the biblical objection to ET is not merely an argument from silence. Motor cars, for example, are not a salvation issue, but we believe that sentient,intelligent, moral-decision-capable beings is, because it would undermine the authority of Scripture. In short, understanding the big picture of the Bible/gospel message allows us to conclude clearly that the reason the Bible doesn’t mention extraterrestrials (ETs) is that there aren’t any.1 Surely, if the earth were to be favoured with a visitation by real extraterrestrials from a galaxy far, far away, then one would reasonably expect that the Bible, and God in His sovereignty and foreknowledge, to mention such a momentous occasion, because it would clearly redefine man's place in the universe.”

This view is not shared by all Creationists. Some argue that in the vastness of space, God could have easily created life elsewhere. But to the Creationists, life itself, earth or otherwise, is divinely created and does not evolve.
The key to evolution is that life, even if it no longer exists on Mars today, but it used to, will have evolved over the billion-and-a-half years that scientist believe Mars could have supported earth-like creaturs. If there is one thing scientists can prove today, it is that microbes on earth constantly mutate and evolve and change. This is especially true of diseases such as the HIV virus.
There are two possibilities that scientists have considered. One is that life used to exist on Mars, but not today. The other is that some microbes may have moved under the ground were there may still be liquid water and they are protected from the suns radiation. A lack of liquid water, due to low air pressure and deadly levels of the suns radiation is considered the main reason life can’t live on the surface of Mars.
According to NPR radio, in an interview with John Grunsfeld, who is working on the curiosity project;

“But once we're down, then we start the marathon of science with the Mars - with the Curiosity rover. And as I said, this is a chemistry laboratory we're sending. It's a, you know, geologist's dream. The rover is the largest rover we've sent, and it's going to try and look at the question of, you know, did Mars once have an environment? We know there were warm, salty water flows. We learned that from the previous rovers. And from orbit, we've seen minerals indicative in this Gale Crater where we're landing, that there was water flows. So the question is, when there was water on Mars on the surface, was it the kind of environment that would be conducive to the formation of life, microbial life, or habitable? And are there any hints, molecular hints, that there might have been life on Mars during that period?
And so we've picked this crater, Gale Crater, because it has the kind of stratigraphy, you know, the linear sedimentary rocks that we can see from orbit, that a geologist would go to to read back in geologic time. And so we'll be able to read back from essentially modern Mars all the way back, perhaps, three and a half billion years in Mars history. And sometime around two and a half billion years ago or so, some three and a half billion years ago, liquid water flowed on the surface. That's what we see. And during that period, you know, were the conditions suitable for life? And we can tell that from the minerals. And if there was life, there might be some kind of reduced carbon, some organic carbon signature tied up in the rocks, kind of a molecular fossil. Although nobody likes me to say the word fossil because it conjures up clams and trilobites, but we're not looking for that.”
While this mission won’t settle the life question once and for all, it will get us a lot closer to understanding if life developed on Mars. There has been growing evidence from other robots on Mars that conditions for life were highly favourable. There has even been evidence that life under the surface may still exists.
A big question is still, did it evolve and exist and was the process similar to that on Earth. Life on Mars could tell us a lot about the process of life’s origin and if it is a process that can take place easily if the conditions for it are right.
With all the moons and planets, our space robots have photographed, we have not seen trees, cows in the meadows or birds flying in the air. We have found similar terrain on other moons that look like the earth.
Saturn’s moon Titan has a thick atmosphere, mountains, and dry stream beds as we see on Mars and liquid in small lakes, which are probably methane. The temperature is -290 degrees Fahrenheit. It would be easy for DNA and RNA, the building blocks of life to form there, and possibly form primitive life in the liquid lakes.     
The best possibilities for life are oceans detected below Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The moons seem heated enough by their planets that they have liquid water under their surfaces and enough organic materials for life to exist there. That doesn’t automatically mean those moons have life, but it is possible. A big question is how life could get to or evolve in such a climate.
The cloud tops of Venus also show an environment where life from earth could survive. While Venus has a surface of 800 to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, way to hot for liquid water, the cloud tops have liquid rain that constantly forms. Venus may have been earth-like billions of years ago. See Top 10 Best Bets for Life in our Solar System.
Some Scientists do believe that organic molecules that led to live may have been formed in space and landed on the earth and possibly the other planets. So the search continues for any sign of life in the solar system, as well as intelligent life around other stars. Chances are we are not alone and life is not unique and divine. Finding it here in the solar system would build support for that theory.  
-សតិវ​ អតុ



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