Author Topic: What happens to space travel if it is proven that there never was life on Mars?  (Read 55775 times)

Offline Dalhousie

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So now we've added Boron to the list of needed precursors to produce life (and this was determined by a couple of "cosmochemists" over a beer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?) 


Cosmochemist is general term used for chemists who specialise in extraterrestrial chemistry, from interstellar clouds to dust, meteorites, and planetary samples.  No need for quotes which imply it's a suspect term.

The did not determine this "over a beer".  They analysed samples from a martian meteorite and an ordinary chondriteand compared the results with published data on other martian meteorites and terrestrial materials. That's called research.

Boron has been known as an essential trace element for plant growth for many decades.  What has also been known that the synthesis of ribose is facilated by clay substrates with boron levels similar to those found in terrestrial clays.  This work is the first reported occurrence of clays with that amount of boron (~200 ppm) in extraterrestial materials.  So yes, this is an important discovery for those interested in abiogenesis.
 
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NASAs effort to find microbial life on Mars has turned into the equivalent of the experts on Ancient Aliens running around doing field research to prove aliens/UFOs really exist.


The authors are from the University of Hawaii, not NASA.

This is peer-reviewered research by people at a recognised university. Equating them with ancient astronaut nutters is slander.


Maybe you should read the paper before posting.  It's available for free online.

http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0064624
"There is nobody who is a bigger fan of sending robots to Mars than me... But I believe firmly that the best, the most comprehensive, the most successful exploration will be done by humans" Steve Squyres

Offline RigelFive

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Should Mars be deemed 100% sterile (which it *cough* already has *cough*)... the insatiable quest to refine parameters for the Drake equation will have to move to other objects.

The argument I believe I've heard is that you have to find water.  To me, this means go to places like Enceladus.  We've already seen jets of ice coming off of this moon with the Cassini mission. 

If you really want to heap risk onto a manned mission to explore a planet...  just consider a manned mission to Enceladus or other moons around Saturn.  Jupiter might be nice too.

Aim farther out.  Then you can have Mars for free.

Offline Dalhousie

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Apparently I wasn't as clear as I thought I was in my introduction to this thread. *sigh*  It seems to me that all news coming from mars, and also Jupiter and Saturn, is framed by the search for life. Will funding for space exploration disappear, like a popped soap bubble, when people conclude that there is no life out there to discover?

No, I don't think it will. 

Exploration is not framed in these terms, even for Jupiter or Saturn.  Exploration of Mars, Europa, Enceladeus, and Titan are partly expressed in these terms, and rightly so, because they are important targets for astrobiology.

Even for Mars, the survey linked to previously did not rate the search for life as the primary reason for exploring Mars.  Understanding Mars as Mars was the highest.
"There is nobody who is a bigger fan of sending robots to Mars than me... But I believe firmly that the best, the most comprehensive, the most successful exploration will be done by humans" Steve Squyres

Offline RigelFive

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Boron has been known as an essential trace element for plant growth for many decades. 

Equating them with ancient astronaut nutters is slanders.

Maybe you should read the paper before posting.  It's available for free online.

http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0064624
Ok. Read the paper.  Hey.... sorry guy.  Boron is a toxin just like Arsenic is a toxin.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/22114689/

Saying that their paper was peer reviewed doesn't seem completely unbiased.  They simply found crystals of borates, not RNA with a dab of boron that is performing life's mechanisms on Mars. 

Lets not call the History Channel's Ancient Alien's TV show people 'nutters' please.  That is completely risable.  UH team flew to Antarctica to get a rock specimen!!!  Instead of analyzing a rock from Antarctica and Sutter's Creek, they should have simply flown half way to Puma Punku to figure out what the aliens used to cut the rocks so precisely.
« Last Edit: 06/14/2013 04:35 AM by RigelFive »

Offline Dalhousie

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Boron has been known as an essential trace element for plant growth for many decades. 

Equating them with ancient astronaut nutters is slanders.

Maybe you should read the paper before posting.  It's available for free online.

http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0064624


Ok. Read the paper.  Hey.... sorry guy.  Boron is a toxin just like Arsenic is a toxin.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/22114689/

The first line of your link says "Boron is an essential micronutrient for plants, and it is beneficial for animals."

High levels are toxic, low levels are a micronutrient. See also
http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex713

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Saying that their paper was peer reviewed doesn't seem completely unbiased. 

Please provide evidence of bias.

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They simply found crystals of borates, not RNA with a dab of boron that is performing life's mechanisms on Mars. 


Read the paper.  They did not find "crystals of borates", they found clays with elevated boron probably as borate ions adsorbed on the surface.

They did not claim to have found "RNA with a dab of boron that is performing life's mechanisms on Mars". Their postulate is that borate ions absorbed onto clay surfaces may catalyse ribose synthesis.  It is a hypothesis for testing.

« Last Edit: 06/15/2013 03:25 AM by Dalhousie »
"There is nobody who is a bigger fan of sending robots to Mars than me... But I believe firmly that the best, the most comprehensive, the most successful exploration will be done by humans" Steve Squyres

Offline RigelFive

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Please provide evidence of bias.
Yes.  On the link for the paper.. click the link for "About the Authors".  It is thusly written:

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James D. Stephenson, Lydia J. Hallis, Stephen J. Freeland
NASA Astrobiology Institute, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America

Lydia J. Hallis, Kazuhide Nagashima Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America

The NASA Astrobiology Institute has had a few calls recently that just were not spot on. What is the peer review process at the NASA Astrobiology Institute ?  I think that is likely one of the few ultimate questions remaining.  Certainly Wolfe-Simon's articles were not well received once published. It is clear NASA is attempting to gain some improvement in credibility by collaborating with University of Hawaii.

At least they are making it all look easy to figure out.  You just imagine a conversation over beer and up comes the topic of boron in some clay from Mars.

Yes.  The scanning electron microscope only registers elements from the samples.  Not a mineral composition.  When you look at the grain microstructure- that is not boron atom kicking an RNA molecule around.  It looks like a grain of a mineral. 
« Last Edit: 06/14/2013 07:39 AM by RigelFive »

Online Lar

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Yes.  The scanning electron microscope only registers elements from the samples.  Not a mineral composition.  When you look at the grain microstructure- that is not boron atom kicking an RNA molecule around.  It looks like a grain of a mineral. 

I think you're trolling. But even if you aren't, you are misrepresenting things... the claim is that boron might catalyse reactions, not that it actually is found in RNA.
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline R7

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I can verify that boron is definitely an essential micronutrient for plants. It's a bit tricky one because the corridor between having too little or too much of it is narrow.

If proof needed I have a sack of borax in the barn for canola boron fertilizing (as oil seed plant it needs more of it than cereals) and a barrel of foliar fertilizer mixture containing boron, manganese, copper and zinc.

Dunno how this is connected to Mars though, except that if boron is found on Martian soil then it's good news for future Martian agriculture.
AD·ASTRA·ASTRORVM·GRATIA

Offline JohnFornaro

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Neither [Wolfe-Simon] nor NASA claimed it was alien life.

That would be a googolnope.

Take a googol with the terms "Felisa_Wolfe-Simon + alien life + NASA".  The number of responses is greater than zero.

The scientific consensus now is a lot different from the news then.  I see that there has been a lot of official backpedaling as well.  NASA was compelled to backpedal from the "impressions" they were "marketing" to the "people".  Probably too much winking and nodding.

Anyhow, back to the OP.

Question:

When Curiosity's work is done, will it be established one way or another that life does, did, or never existed on Mars?

Answer:

Probably not.
Sometimes I just flat out don't get it.

Offline ChrisWilson68

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Neither [Wolfe-Simon] nor NASA claimed it was alien life.

That would be a googolnope.

Take a googol with the terms "Felisa_Wolfe-Simon + alien life + NASA".  The number of responses is greater than zero.

Of course the number of Google results for that set of search terms is not zero.  But I scanned the first few of them and confirmed that none of them seems to ever say that Wolfe-Simon or NASA claimed what Wolfe found was alien life.

So, I stand by my assertion.  If you want to show it's wrong, that should be easy for you: provide a specific URL, and a quote from that URL that says that either NASA or Wolfe-Simon claimed the microbes she found were alien life.

Offline D_Dom

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So you scanned the first few google responses. Upthread you cite wikipedia as a source. Upon this foundation you stand by your assertions?
 Gotta love the interweb
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Offline Rocket Science

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Had a similar thread a while back, the respose is sort of meh.... ;D

Have a look!

http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=28499.0
"The laws of physics are unforgiving"
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Offline ChrisWilson68

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So you scanned the first few google responses. Upthread you cite wikipedia as a source. Upon this foundation you stand by your assertions?
 Gotta love the interweb

Are you kidding me?  Look at the context.

Someone responded to my comments by suggesting I was obviously wrong because a particular Google search yielded a non-zero list of results.  I humored that person and looked at the Google results just to prove a point -- that the Google results for that search don't contradict what I said at all.

Obviously I'm not basing my original comments on the Google results as you imply.  And as for quoting Wikipedia, that doesn't imply that's my only source of information, just that putting in the reference helps my case, because it's a short, easy-to-read summary that is consistent with what I said.

Offline savuporo

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Question:
When Curiosity's work is done, will it be established one way or another that life does, did, or never existed on Mars?

Answer:
Probably not.
2-megapixel screensavers are getting lame though, so we'll need a new rover.
Orion - the first and only manned not-too-deep-space craft

Offline RigelFive

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Refresher course on Wolfe-Simon (then NASA Astrobiology) and arsenic based alien life on Earth, and thoughts of alien life on MARS:
http://m.popsci.com/science/article/2011-09/scientist-strange-land


http://m.popsci.com/science/article/2012-02/death-arsenic-life

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The finding, which was extensively promoted by NASA (whose Astrobiology Institute funded the research), jolted the scientific community, since it contradicted long-accepted rules of biochemistry. Within days of the announcement researchers began to question Wolfe-Simon's methodology and conclusions. Bypassing peer-reviewed periodicals, many voiced their criticisms directly on blogs and Twitter.


http://felisawolfesimon.com/

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R.S. Oremland, C.W. Saltikov, F. Wolfe-Simon, and J.F. Stolz (2009). Arsenic in the evolution of Earth and extraterrestrial ecosystems. Geomicrobiology Journal. 26: 522-536. [pdf]

"A case can be made to focus on arsenic as a font for Martian life. Mars had a clear volcanic history, and associated hydrother-mal fluids may have entrained dissolved arsenic minerals in their circulation, eventually emptying into depressions (i.e., lakes) on the Noachian to Hesperian age surface. Over time, these “lakes” would have been exposed to decreasing temperatures and atmospheric pressures as Mars lost its volatiles, and the remaining fluids eventually reached saturation as dense rem-nant brines underlying a salt/ice crust. Under such conditions, key brine components like arsenate would reach high concen-trations. Anaerobes that employ low potential electron accep-tors like methanogens (CO 2 ) or sulfate reducers would be en-ergetically disadvantaged under such a regimen of high salinity compared with arsenate-respirers (Oren 1999; Newman et al. 1997a). Indeed, salt-saturated Searles Lake (Fig. 1) has an ac-tive full microbiological arsenic cycle (Oremland et al. 2005) but lacks any capacity for sulfate-reduction (Kulp et al. 2006, 2007). The strict anaerobe Halarsenatibacter silvermani grows optimally on As(V) at salt-saturation (Oremland et al. 2005;
Switzer Blum et al. 2009). A similar analogy can be supposed for ancient Mars, or perhaps concentrated brines believed to be lying in deep within buried aquifers. If anoxygenic photosynthe-sis also occurred on early Mars, then As(III) of volcanic origin deposited on its surface could have been converted to As(V) and the full As-cycle initiated. The current surface of Mars has become highly oxidized over time by physical/chemical pro-cesses, which also would have left residual deposits of As(V). It would certainly be of interest in future Martian surface robotic missions to look for the presence of arsenic minerals, a capacity that current surface Rovers and other robotic missions lack."

I think Wolfe-Simon just used the wrong words about a multi billion dollar nuclear powered NASA MSL mission not having the full capabilities needed to find all types of life on Mars.  For that, she was blitzed negatively by the blogs/media.

The arsenic story was published when Wolfe-Simon was at Harvard University (a.k.a. H.U.). Now the Boron story is being published by University of Hawaii (a.k.a.  U.H.).  There are no quips from hawaii about the MSL lander, so this boron research appears to have been written on John F's "whole cloth".

Both arsenic and boron studies are/were funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

I'd put money down ($5) that both of these studies (boron and arsenic) are actually on the right track. 

However, I still think Ancient Aliens show is on the right track too and we don't need NASA spend money to research this.  Rationale is that the Drake equation implies that it will take nearly an infinite amount of resources to really conclude there is intelligent (or microbial) life elsewhere in the galaxy. 


Offline Dalhousie

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But the reason there was a kerfuffle at all was that it was shoddy research and it turned out on closer examination that what Wolfe-Simon had claimed had never actually happened.  NASA rushed to trumpet results to the popular media before they had been properly peer reviewed.

The work was not shoddy, the paper was detailed, carefully outlined their evidence and their arguments, lodged the key materials for public access.  The paper was peer reviewed and published in one of the top science journals in the world.

NASA did not "rush to trumpet the results", it issued a press release on the publication of the peer reviewed paper in Science Express.  No press conference, just one of six science press releases in December 2010.  There were also press released by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Arizona State University, and Stanford University.  Why would these institutions not issue a statement when their researchers had a paper published in Science?


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The scientific consensus is now that Wolfe-Simon's microbes never used arsenic in place of phosphorus to build DNA.

That's how science works.  People publish data and hypotheses to test them, these are tested by later research.  Negative results are just as important as positive ones.  Just because something is later shown to be wrong does not mean that the earlier work was poor.

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And well-established principals of chemistry say it's not physically possible, as the bonds arsenic would form are orders of magnitude too weak to fill the role of phosphorus in DNA.

The trouble is "well-established principles" sometimes show surprising exceptions in the world of complex systems like biology and geology.  Which is why the possibility of arsenic substituting for phosphorous has been discussed for many years and searching for example to test the possibility is a legitimate area of research.
« Last Edit: 06/15/2013 03:22 AM by Dalhousie »
"There is nobody who is a bigger fan of sending robots to Mars than me... But I believe firmly that the best, the most comprehensive, the most successful exploration will be done by humans" Steve Squyres

Offline Dalhousie

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Please provide evidence of bias.
Yes.  On the link for the paper.. click the link for "About the Authors".  It is thusly written:

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James D. Stephenson, Lydia J. Hallis, Stephen J. Freeland
NASA Astrobiology Institute, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America

Lydia J. Hallis, Kazuhide Nagashima Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America

And how is this germane, let alone evidence of bias?


You do realise there are more than 700 people actively involved with the NAI?  That they are spread across NAI 15 teams with members in 25 other institutions on six continents? This means more than a thousand publications a year (assuming at least one publication a year per researcher).  In this context, what does:

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The NASA Astrobiology Institute has had a few calls recently that just were not spot on.

even mean, let alone have any relevance?

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What is the peer review process at the NASA Astrobiology Institute ?

It 's not the job of the NAI to provide formal peer review.  Peer review is done by the journals that papers are submitted to.

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I think that is likely one of the few ultimate questions remaining.  Certainly Wolfe-Simon's articles were not well received once published. It is clear NASA is attempting to gain some improvement in credibility by collaborating with University of Hawaii.

NASA has been working with people at the University of Hawaii for at least 50 years.  This isn't a recent attempt to "gain some improvement in credibility".


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At least they are making it all look easy to figure out.  You just imagine a conversation over beer and up comes the topic of boron in some clay from Mars.

Or over dinner, during a coffee break, at the beach on the weekend, round the water cooler. or during a casual conversation in the corridor.  That is how science works, that is why organisations like the NAI are so important because they allow researchers to network and collaborate, to cross pollinate.


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The scanning electron microscope only registers elements from the samples.  Not a mineral composition.  When you look at the grain microstructure- that is not boron atom kicking an RNA molecule around.  It looks like a grain of a mineral. 

They did not use an SEM to analyse the samples, they used an ion microprobe.  The chemistry determined is the composition of the mineral target.

The authors did not say anything about illustrating a "boron atom kicking an RNA molecule around."  The illustrate, using an SEM image, the clay veins they analysed.

The evidence that boron facilitates ribose synthesis and the importance clays are found in the references they use references 3 and 4, and 7, 8, 9 and 10, respectively.
[/quote]
"There is nobody who is a bigger fan of sending robots to Mars than me... But I believe firmly that the best, the most comprehensive, the most successful exploration will be done by humans" Steve Squyres

Offline Dalhousie

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I think Wolfe-Simon just used the wrong words about a multi billion dollar nuclear powered NASA MSL mission not having the full capabilities needed to find all types of life on Mars.  For that, she was blitzed negatively by the blogs/media.

Wolfe-Simon was wrong, arsenic can be detected by the APX and the ChemMin on MSL, the ChemMin can also determine the minerals present.  All assuming that the arsenic is in sufficient abundance of course.

The negative blogs and media comment came from people who thought the authors of the paper were wrong, not because of a passing comment about MSL.

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The arsenic story was published when Wolfe-Simon was at Harvard University (a.k.a. H.U.). Now the Boron story is being published by University of Hawaii (a.k.a.  U.H.).  There are no quips from hawaii about the MSL lander, so this boron research appears to have been written on John F's "whole cloth".

Wolfe Simon was at the USGS when she published the Science paper, not Hawaii.  It even says that in her home page that you linked to.  Did you read it?

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Both arsenic and boron studies are/were funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

So what?

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I'd put money down ($5) that both of these studies (boron and arsenic) are actually on the right track. 

So these studies you previously poured scorn on you now think are actually on the right track?

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However, I still think Ancient Aliens show is on the right track too and we don't need NASA spend money to research this.  Rationale is that the Drake equation implies that it will take nearly an infinite amount of resources to really conclude there is intelligent (or microbial) life elsewhere in the galaxy.


Irrelevant, off topic and wrong with respect to the OP. We are not discussing ancient aliens, intelligent life or even microbes elsewhere in the galaxy, we are discussing life on Mars.  It won't take "nearly an infinite amount of resources" to falsify the proposition that there is or was life on Mars, although it will certainly take a lot.
"There is nobody who is a bigger fan of sending robots to Mars than me... But I believe firmly that the best, the most comprehensive, the most successful exploration will be done by humans" Steve Squyres

Offline JohnFornaro

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Neither [Wolfe-Simon] nor NASA claimed it was alien life.

That would be a googolnope.

Take a googol with the terms "Felisa_Wolfe-Simon + alien life + NASA".  The number of responses is greater than zero.

Of course the number of Google results for that set of search terms is not zero.  But I scanned the first few of them and confirmed that none of them seems to ever say that Wolfe-Simon or NASA claimed what Wolfe found was alien life.

So, I stand by my assertion.  If you want to show it's wrong, that should be easy for you: provide a specific URL, and a quote from that URL that says that either NASA or Wolfe-Simon claimed the microbes she found were alien life.

Which is a perfectly acceptable nit. 

Seeing as how web pages can change and do change and are known to change and that this "change" is part an parcel of the internets,  you may stand by your assertion of the current fleeting moment.

The kerfluffle existed not at my doing, but at their doing.  I can add one of the Wolfe-Simon type sites to my exhaustive list of sites who have deleted my posts.  Point still standing is that that "number of Google results for that set of search terms is not zero".

We will never know about the alternate universe where NASA reported the results of  Wolfe-Simon's work with more initial accuracy than was actually done.  NASA did not do its part to keep the headlines from being quite so dramatique.

I assume that the ahem, peers, took the day off?  Everybody gets a break.

You may pretend that the past has not existed, as proven by the current state of the internets, because humans always get to make choices, and the internets is only, and can only, be a reflection of the shadows on the cave wall.  If I'm not getting too metaphysical here.

Wolfe-Simon discovered something.  The early reports have been de-bunked because the NASA originated hype was not supported by facts.

In addition, a friendly reminder that Wiki has a posting history as well:

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Felisa_Wolfe-Simon&oldid=400039319

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Felisa Wolfe-Simon is a biochemist at the US Geological Survey and a fellow of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Her research focuses on evolutionary microbiology and exotic metabolic pathways. Her recent work includes the possibility that some microorganisms can use arsenate (AsO3−
4) as a substitute for phosphate (PO3−
4), including examples cultured from Mono Lake, California.[1]

I'm not going to be reading the oracle every day on every subject.  Ya know.  Just sayin'.
« Last Edit: 06/15/2013 04:17 AM by JohnFornaro »
Sometimes I just flat out don't get it.

Offline JohnFornaro

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Question:
When Curiosity's work is done, will it be established one way or another that life does, did, or never existed on Mars?

Answer:
Probably not.
2-megapixel screensavers are getting lame though, so we'll need a new rover.

I suggest eight wheels next time.  Or three.  Don't matter none to me.
Sometimes I just flat out don't get it.

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