The title is factually correct but it's not very representative of the actual content.
A more appropriate title would be NASA confirms predicted levels of organic carbon in martian soil and long term measurements help scientists identify possible cyclic releases of methane on mars.
Organic molecules are common as hell in space including fairly complex ones, asteroids, comets and space dust are rich in them as well as many other "complex" molecules like ammonia based ones are also everywhere.
Hydrogen is the most common element, Oxygen is the 3rd most common one, Carbon is the 4th and Nitrogen is the 7th and Sulfur is the 10th.
Hydrocarbons are common, ammonia based compounds are common, heck cosmic clouds of sulfuric acid are common.
At this point the main study in Cosmobiology is to figure out how to look for life in an organic rich environment since the amount of it in space is essentially blinds us and effectively made us throw out all of our assumptions out of the window.
So what we left is to either try to identify some cyclic processes in these organic rich environments that cannot be explained by any other means (e.g. the methane, although more likely than not it's tied the temperatures during the summer one way or another).
And look at the inorganic and complex organic processes such as minerals that may indicate life and the search for much more complex organic compounds like uric acid and urea since we've identified microbes, fungi and other types of life with uric acid and urea pathways where's it was previously thought that only vertebrates (excluding fish) and mammals (respectively) had these pathways.
> NASA confirms predicted levels of organic carbon in martian soil and long term measurements help scientists identify possible cyclic releases of methane on mars
This is a general public press release (besides being 80 characters to long for a HN news headline), not a scientific paper. Also NASA's existence is quite directly releated to how many people think it's important. As long as science need PR to get funded, this type of headline and artistic renderings are the lessest of all evils.
I understand why they are doing it I just don’t think this one was very appropriate title, especially considering the content and the average “layman” who will read a NASA press release directly.
The title they chose was simple not well it’s meh.
They tied a “simple” adjective to a more complex term as in Ancient Organic Material and Mysterious Carbon that’s the clickbaity part and it’s not even that good as a clickbait as you said.
Anyone who understands what Organic or Methane is doesn’t really care of the Ancient or Mysterious adjectives used to describe them in the title anyone who would be appealed by these adjectives likely as mentioned above doesn’t understand what these adjectives describe.
Other methane discoveries in solar system :
- 2004, methane was discovered in the Martian atmosphere by M.J. Mumma of NASA's Goddard Flight Center
- 2004, martian atmosphere finding verified by the Mars Express Orbiter
- 2005, Titan's atmosphere by the Huygens probe
- 2015, the Cassini orbiter spacecraft on discovered the Enceladus (Saturn's moon) plume which has all the ingredients for methanogenesis-based life forms to feed from. Suggested hot water is interacting with rock beneath the sea.
- 2017, new findings of Enceladus plume support that conclusion and add that the rock appears to be reacting chemically.
- 2018, NASA disclosed in a press conference that its Curiosity rover had documented seasonal fluctuations of atmospheric methane levels on Mars.
I get that detecting previously unseen organic compounds on Mars is a big deal, but it doesn't necessarily indicate that life was once present on Mars. I think it increases the probability that it could have existed, but it falls short of a conclusive "Life once existed on Mars" claim.
We’ve finally detected carbon concentration simmilar to what we’ve expected to see based on mars originated meteorites found on earth and we’ve now have more evidence for a cyclic release of methane on Mars however methane isn’t rare it’s a combination of the most and the 4th most common elements in the universe.
Titan is full of it, Jupiter has more of it likely than all of the solar system combined, and we’ve already proven that cosmic dust and comets smell like farts.
Mars with its thin atmosphere and lack of magnetic field would be producing organic compounds constantly as high energy cosmic and solar radiation hits the surface.
If anything for Mars it seems that the source of hydrogen might be a bigger mystery but it should have enoguh water in the soil to be ionized and broken down into molecular hydrogen and oxygen allowing organic compounds to form.
The interesting part is the cyclical release during the hottest months of the year it could be biological but it could also and much much much more is just a seasonal pheonomon tied to the temperature.
Just imagining a kid at a science fair having made that legitimate discovery but being dismissed by teachers
AFAIK the smell in farts is mercaptanes (thiols, organic sulfur compounds).
and have an automatic reaction of feeling proud of the rover for a job so well done. Six years in that environment and still going. NASA obviously deserves the credit, the rover evokes that reaction non-the-less. I feel like petting it and telling it how good of a rover it has been. It makes me thankful for the immense effort, time, and resources that NASA puts into their missions, so projects like Curiosity can go on producing for years longer than they're originally scheduled to.
I worked on image processing software for MER, MGS, Odyssey, and other Mars missions. While my work was on thermal imaging systems, and not the optical camera used in this image, the same principles apply. I specifically worked on software to select and align images to produce mosaics that looked seamless.
Personally, it makes me feel that NASA's public announcements are not trustworthy, that they have a sophisticated PR machine and we're not really seeing the truth.
As an example, when you see a pretty picture of Mars in a magazine, it's composed of dozens or hundreds of individual images, captured as long, thin image strips, as a satellite orbits the planet. Those images come in looking absolutely nothing like the final product. You're viewing a rectangle, but the source data represents a strip along the surface of a sphere. It needs to be rectified, aligned to dozen of other such strips, and projected on to a flat surface. Unless you're projecting these images back on to a sphere, there's a whole lot of stretching and alignment going on. The images are taken at different times of the day, during different seasons. Software needs to balance the albedo so that it doesn't look like a Picasso painting.
Most NASA images are false color, because they are not taken with normal optical cameras. Much of the good science comes from imaging outside the human visual spectrum. The THEMIS instrument on Mars Odyssey images 10 infrared spectral bands, none of which can be seen with the human eye. Other instruments record ultraviolet light. There is no way for humans to see any of this data, so they pick three spectral bands and assign them to red, green, and blue so that humans can see something. Different band selections produce different images of the same area and serve to emphasize different minerals or other natural materials. Science is done on all bands of the data, but pictures help provide context.
The raw data for all these images are freely available to anyone, but asking to see the "real" image before it's been processed is a meaningless request. There is no such thing as a "true image".
False-color images, in which some quantity you care about (e.g., water vapor, ) is projected into a map or spatial coordinate, are pervasive throughout the sciences. Nobody would seriously contemplate putting some kind of interpretive warning on such images, because we all know you can't see water vapor or ocean salinity directly.
From such non-deceptive cases, you have a slippery slope.
After you work with spatially-mapped imagery for a while, it's natural to insert (invisible) infrared channels of an earth-observing satellite as the red channel of an RGB image. Similarly, it's natural to color-code certain spectral bands of solar images, in extreme UV, as a shortcut to highlight flares, even though you can't come close to seeing these bands directly  .
It's also natural to adjust the contrast or related properties like white balance, of planetary images. After all, your own monitor is adjusting the contrast through a gamma correction  that isn't well-standardized.
I think people have complained about these kinds of enhancements before -- in some cases, with reason -- so now you do in fact see disclaimers about contrast enhancement on NASA images.  If you pay closer attention, I think you will notice these disclaimers, too. (I did not cherry-pick , I just looked at the JPL news feed until I came to a news release that might involve a real-world scene - the next example I saw was , which also has a disclaimer).
I haven't been involved in that many NASA press releases, although I have done work with the investigator mentioned in . Of course, for a press release, you have to simplify complex issues and make analogies and all that stuff. Hopefully the science comes through, and also hopefully, there is a link to the published paper which has the technical details. That last is the key, because it offers some guarantee that the result was vetted, and a method to review the original data.
The amount of care that goes in to getting calibrated data is hard to convey. It's critically important, and all the science done at NASA and with NASA data depends on it.
For instance, just think for a bit about all the geometric and photometric calibration that had to be done to mosaic up the little self-portrait image of Curiosity. They had to back out the joint angles of all the actuators from the camera all the way back to the robot, and color-correct for different exposures, and rescale to account for distance differences, and account for parallax with a camera lens model (which itself had to be calibrated) and .... And that's just for a non-science image. It doesn't really need to be photometrically calibrated.
The actual science images would have much more careful localization and photometric calibration. A person I work with routinely cross-calibrates in-situ instrument footprints of size ~1mm onto this imagery to get the correspondence between mineral grains (visible in camera images) and mineralogy information.
For instance, the widely-used CAHVOR(E) geometric camera model that maps pixel indexes (i,j) in the CCD array, to physical locations in space, was invented in 1978 at JPL . And things have come a long way since then. As a sample of the documentation of the MAHLI camera that took those images, see . That paper was followed with an even more detailed post-landing calibration document  - about 100 pages, condensed from years of R&D and calibration.
What is my point? First, it is always a stretch to map the data from a special sensor like that back to an RGB image. And second, if you really do want to understand the relation of what you're seeing back to the original physical setup (i.e., learn the "truth" as revealed by the measurement), you have to do a lot of geometric/photometric analysis. And third, rather astonishingly, that analysis is also done routinely, and published for whoever wants to read/critique/improve.
HN is not the usual audience, of course; most people don't think to ask the question. And of course, maybe others republish the images without noting the alterations. And it seems my criticism/question is outdated, as you say NASA has made more effort to address this issue.
> Nobody would seriously contemplate putting some kind of interpretive warning on such images, because we all know you can't see water vapor or ocean salinity directly.
It's hard to for experts to underestimate what 'we all know' (I and my peers have the same problem in my field - look at what HN users think typical computer users know, can grasp, and will do); looking at that map I could easily imagine many people thinking it was somehow real. Here's a recent story, no exaggeration: I was watching a sports commentary show widely praised as among the most intelligent, and they had on a guest who revealed that he had studied astrophysics in a prior life. One of the commentators asked (and I'm paraphrasing, but this was really the question):
Maybe you can settle a argument for (another commentator) and me: What is further from New York, Los Angeles or the Moon? Because I can see the Moon from New York, but I can't see Los Angeles.
I wish space science put a little bit more focus on trying to produce true-color images to the best extent possible. Scientists themselves might be primarily interested in the scientific data, but everyone is also interested in knowing how those things look. That is, if we were to look at them with our own eyes, what would we see?
The danger of unlabeled false-color maps that look "natural" is that they'll later find their way into arts - movies, videogames, posters, book covers, etc.
If indeed the methane signatures are not from serpentinization and we can somehow figure out how in situ to determine if the methane is indeed organically produced then the next question would be "Are these lifeforms the result of Panspermia"? We will then need to figure out how to sequence the chemistry of of these lifeforms which may require us to redefine the definition of "life" altogether. Regardless of the answer as to life independently forming given a certain set of criteria or if carried by meteorites from world to world such would provide good evidence that the universe is at probably teeming with microbial life will shifting eradicate our geocentric views even further.
Note: I have undergraduate degrees in both Geology and Astronomy. IMO Mars is likely a dead world and these methane signatures are from serpentinization as this is the most plausible scenario.
I don't see how; we don't have a definition of "life" to redefine. We basically operate on the simpler system of having a big list of things that are life -- everything is categorized as "alive" or "not alive" without reference to a general definition of the category.
I think if we found a population of some kind of self-replicating RNA analogues on another planet, it would be significant enough to revisit that "cellular" constraint. On the other hand, that definition is already so broad that we could conceivably build self-replicating 3D printers that would qualify as life.
We might also take a top-down approach and come up with a good definition of "ecosystem", and then define living things in terms of their role in an ecosystem.
The discovery of such remains on Mars would be the saddest thing ever. Like walking along a deserted island and finding a bony corpse's remains-and dealing with the full weight of what once was.
Now, for anyone who knows more than me about this, I have a question: can methane ice comets get buried during accretion, eventually climb up the molecular mass ladder into heavy hydrocarbons?
A similar process used in:
...could be used to reform lower value hydrocarbons into higher value ones.
Someone with more domain knowledge might appreciate it.
However methane and organic matter gets discovered every 2 weeks. Perhaps next week they'll rediscover water for the 10,000th time. I get the excitement for the few that weren't aware of it, but it's getting really tiring for the rest of us.
Are we planning for evacuation of Earth? I think it is clear that Mars is not suitable for mass migration.
Are we looking for evidence that Mars was Earth Version 1 and that we evacuated and came here?
Are we expecting to find minerals that we could ship to earth that do not exist here?
Is it just so we can say we did it? I am curious because we have barely explored Earth and many parts of our planet are still challenging to study. Is it cheaper to explore Mars?
There is a small group of people interested in studying Mars. There's also a small group of people interested in studying oceans, another small one interested in studying forests, etc. You happen to be reading a comment thread for the article that comes from that first group. The article is about on Mars because it's literally published by the few people interested in Mars. Find a marine biology article, and it'll be focusing on the oceans.
As for why are there more Mars articles than marine biology ones on HN, or even in mass media? There are many reasons, primary of which is probably science fiction, which likes to focus on space. There were also spectacular achievements made recently, many of whom driven by a company with express purpose of enabling colonization of Mars. All those are pretty interesting for the nerdy types that frequent HN.
 - Compared to the general population.
 -- Tangent: there was this one sci-fi series about oceans back in the 90s, seaQuest DSV. I miss it a lot and really wish someone would make something similar again. The first season was mostly about geopolitics and accurate-ish marine science. If there are any bored sci-fi authors here (looking at you, 'cstross), I implore you to write something like The Expanse, but underwater. I spent some time yesterday looking for subsurface sci-fi books, and there aren't many of them.
"Because it's next"
...back to the question.
At the risk of annoying people with more Elon, he said it well with "“I think there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multi-planetary, in order to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen"
So for survivability alone, this is a good move for humans. Kind of like putting your investments in several categories to reduce risk. We have weapons capable of destroying the earth + what nature can do, it makes sense to have safety systems for humanity's existence not earth based.
Also historically with great exploration into the unknown there is an aspect of 'we dont know what the benefit is' but history has taught us there is usually a benefit in finding out, whether that be knowledge gained in the process or what we find at the journey's end. We'd all still be in some part of Africa (more likely extinct really) if people had not wondered what was over the next hill or ocean. We can debate maybe that hasn't been a good thing for the world or some societies, but it has been for the population and knowledge curve of humans.
And your comment 'I think it is clear that Mars is not suitable for mass migration.' Really? Why is that? Id debate this will be like people heading to my home of Australia some 200+ years ago. The first settlers had a hell of a time, many died or eked out limited quality of life. But over time humans have the habit of building on the previous generations progress. So today there is not a great place for mass migration on Mars. But I have no reason to believe we can't change that in 50 or 100 years.
Mars is the easiest place to get to and stay on, aside from the Moon, and is much more interesting than the Moon - thus, more interest. (Venus is harder, the gas giants and their moons are further and thus more expensive.)
(edit: I removed "Venus", because I don't think we have anything actively orbiting it, nor any specific plans to launch anything.)
(edit 2: wait, JAXA has something! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akatsuki_(spacecraft) )
It's easier to image the entirety of Mars than it is to image, say, the Pacific. It's easier to send a rover to Mars that will survive for years on Mars than it would be to send one to the depths of the Pacific, too.
In Mars' wonderful weather, pressure is so low, at 0.006 atm, that IIRC water boils in the ambient environment, and gravity is 0.376 G.
Around 50 km above Venus, pressure is about equal to Earth, gravity is equal to Earth, and temperatures are a very friendly (relative to all locations in the universe outside Earth) 30-80 deg C. (Also, breathable air is lighter than Venusian atmosphere, so a floating base is a bit easier; and Venus is closer to Earth than Mars.)
There are drawbacks to living in a Venusian airship, or so I'm told, but weather-wise it's pretty good.
Neither are exactly prime vacation spots, but if you want a target for robotic exploration, Mars is so much easier.
And in the past? Are we going to fine fossils?
The following are all natural formations on earth. No reason that funky shapes couldn't form naturally on mars as well:
Fossils: probably not, those require fairly specific conditions to form
Life now: probably not, but there's a chance.
We have multiple moons with liquid oceans in our solar system. That's where I would place my bets.
We have found fossils from 3.5 billion year ago on Earth . Assuming life formed and lived from Noachian - Hesperian periods what would prevent the conditions for fossilization happening at least one place over this very long period of time. I don't know much about Mars geology so what might be obvious to others may not be obvious to me.
"Ancient organic material", "Mysterious methane" feels like click-bait after you read the content behind it
I hope the NASA keeps getting all the funds it needs, it is just sad that they have to fall in this kind of strategies to do so.
IIUC, methane should be broken down by interaction with sunlight. So if there is trace methane in the Martian atmosphere, it's either coming from not-depleted sub-surface reserves (in which case: how did it get there?) or chemical processes are actively generating it in the Martian ecosystem somewhere.
I don't think it's fair to criticize the article itself. It's well-written, level-headed, and self-critical. I think it's fair to criticize their calling a press conference to announce it, rather than just releasing a notice or allowing the articles to be published in due course.
I'm inclined to cut them slack on the marketing style. NASA lives and dies by the whims of a fickle Congress, and they have few opportunities to make headlines. There's a bit of sensationalism or grandstanding at play here. The actual announcement is good science, and plays into their desire for funding to follow up.
I'd rather see my money go to NASA and be spent on space discovery than see it spent to make useless products, or worse yet, to shed blood.
My point was that the title seems a bit exaggerated given the content of the article.
So wouldn't this discovery relating to Mars further hint that it may have supported life in its past?
Most intense submarine ever.
Fair warning: this is a self-plug.
A) It didn't change the scientific paradigm. It was an extension of generally agreed on principles.
B) It didn't effect the day to day work of the majority of scientists.
That seems to be the criteria you are using, and they seem pretty strange to me in this case.
Nobody asserts that the discovery of alien life would produce a product. Instead, pundits carry on about “the implications for our understanding of our place in the universe” or some other such rot. That's the focus of commentary on alien life and that's what I critiqued in that essay.