Theological import of life on Mars?
(Top Posts - Science - 022505)

If life formed on our nearby neighbor totally inde-
pendently and in a manner naturalistically research-
able, will religions re-examine some of their funda-
mental presumptions regarding a supposed God
being focused on earth and humankind?

After all, -if- there is life beneath the surface of Mars,
would that not support naturalists who perceive every-
thing as simply an unguided and natural process in
which motile reproductive matter happened to have
originated on the planet we reside on, an event which
eventually (after billions of years) resulted in a great
variety of lifeforms on earth, most of which have gone

What need is there for some God or so-called Intelli-
gent Designer in a naturalistic progression? If, after
all, life is so common that it is found on 2 nearby
planets, just think of the possibility, the likelihood, that
life is profuse throughout the universe, and that some
of that life has evolved intelligence/science and yes,
even the likelihood that religious belief systems are
also a common burden sentient beings share, at least
until they reach a point of mastery of their naturalistic

Just think of the profound nature of what a detailed
study of that life on Mars would tell us, both regarding
the origin of life independent of earth -and- possibly,
a commonality with life on earth, portending that life
could've first been Martian, then arriving on earth, -or-
that life originating in space happened to end up on
both planets in a similar way, -or- that life originated
beneath the Martian surface in a way quite different
from what happened on earth, -or- ... well ... the revela-
tions from that discovery would be very exciting, and
perhaps theologically impactive.

After all, we are very early in our journey to understand
the actual naturalistic mechanism for the origin of life
as we know it ...

Feb. 25, 2005

Formaldehyde claim inflames martian debate


Top scientist defends data that he says point strongly
to life on Mars.

Is the scent of life on Mars growing stronger?

Formaldehyde has been found in the martian atmosphere,
according to a senior scientist working with the Mars Ex-
press orbiter. If correct, the discovery provides strong
evidence that Mars is either extremely geologically active,
or harbouring colonies of microbial life. But many experts
are not yet convinced.


The most likely source of formaldehyde (CH2O) is the
oxidation of methane (CH4), which has already been
identified in the martian skies (see 'Methane found on
Mars' ).


"I do believe there is life inside the planet, maybe 50 to
100 metres below the surface, but there is a long way to
go to demonstrate that." -- Vittorio Formisano, Principal
investigator of the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer instru-
ment on Mars Express.


The discovery of martian methane last year excited sci-
entists, who said that there were two likely sources of the
gas: active geological processes beneath the planet's
surface or a population of methane-generating microbes.

Because Mars was long thought to be a dead planet,
devoid of both life and geothermal activity, either pros-
pect came as a revelation.

However, a molecule of methane can typically survive
for about 350 years in the atmosphere before being
broken down by the Sun's ultraviolet radiation. So the
possibility remained that the gas could have been deliv-
ered to the planet by a colliding comet, or by an occa-
sional release from an underground reservoir.

Formaldehyde is far more unstable, surviving for just 7.5
hours or so before breaking apart. The majority of scien-
tists agree that methane is the most likely precursor for
formaldehyde on Mars, so this means that the planet's
production of methane must be an ongoing, continuous
process, says Formisano.


Many scientists are sceptical about the quality of Formi-
sano's data.


Formisano argues that his martian spectrum tallies in 15
key places, which should be enough to convince anyone:
"It's not a matter of opinion any more," he says. He adds
that, since he presented his data at the conference, sev-
eral sceptics have already changed their views. He points
out that although rejected by Nature, the research will
soon be published in the journal Planetary and Space


Many scientists believe that Mars once had briny, acidic
seas (see 'A picture of young Mars')

that may have been conducive to life. "An acidic environ-
ment still exists," says Formisano. "On Earth, there are
certain bacteria that prefer very acid conditions."

He also points out that he has found higher concentra-
tions of methane directly above an area of Mars that
seems to be covered in pack ice (see 'Mars may have
frozen sea' ).

This raises the tantalizing possibility of a microbial colony
living beneath the surface.

Mumma says that more convincing evidence for life is
needed. Continuous production of heavier hydrocarbons
such as propane, which cannot come from geothermal
processes, would be a key finding, he says. Better still
would be a skew in the ratio of carbon isotopes in the
air, as produced by organisms on Earth.

NASA and the European Space Agency are both plan-
ning Mars missions for the end of the decade that will
look for precisely that.

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