Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The strange tube structures of Mars


More discoveries on Mars.

New photos from the Curiosity rover show tiny, tube-like structures in the rock of the Martian surface. This caught the eye of one scientist who believes they resemble Ordovician trace fossils here on Earth. Does that mean we have evidence of life...albeit fossilized...on Mars?

Of course no one is jumping to that conclusion just yet, though it remains a tantalizing possibility. Another possibility is that the structures in the photographs are "crystal molds" in the rock. Crystals that have dissolved away leave these molds behind. The same thing happens in rocks here on Earth. This is one of several potential explanations.

Another is what's called "bioturbation". This is what happens when organisms living in sediment disturb the sediment around them. A common example on Earth would be worm burrows. There is far from enough evidence to seriously entertain that notion, but its naturally an exciting possibility for it would not only mean the presence of life, but lifeforms that are beyond the microbial scale.

Life elsewhere in space has prompted writing since nearly time immemorial. Additionally, Mars has held a special fascination to the collective human psyche, one that I have always shared. In fact, I have had a story kicking around inside my brain for the past couple years that is in part set on Mars, but the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune have sent my writing efforts in other directions. Maybe I'll get to it one day. One other reason I've shunted it to the side is that I want to make sure I have something at least a little bit new to bring to the table. For as I said, people have been writing about Mars for an awful long time.

In fact, there is so much "fiction" about the Red Planet today that I'm perturbed.

The article about the "maybe fossils" was published at the beginning of January. It didn't make much news, but since I go through science and technology websites about once per week, I found it. What does seem to make news? All manner of cockamamie claims about "objects" spotted on Mars by armchair "researchers" who sit in their parents' basements, eating Hot Pockets and look over Mars rover photos while the equivalent of "What does that cloud look like to you?"

I'm normally not so caustic, but not only are these claims specious and of dubious sincerity, they distract from real research. The finding of what may be (a very cautious may be) fossilized life on Mars is extraordinary. This is a genuine mystery, whereas all the mystery of the other claims vanishes upon closer inspection.

And yet...and yet...despite better reason, I can't fully let go of Cydonia. 



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