NASA Finds .... Something?

NASA is set today to give a press conference regarding some sort of astrobiology discovery. Their own press release is rather short on details. It's leading to a lot of speculation about what they've found. Everything ranging from bacteria on Mars to first contact with an alien species.

Given that NASA has been focusing a lot lately on comets and asteroids, I'm leaning to something a bit less dramatic than ET coming out of the shadows. My guess is they'll find that test results from one of their flybys has shown that one of the comets they poked had something living on it that shouldn't have been there. Bacteria on the surface or something. Certainly worth getting excited about, but nothing on the level of contact with our Vegan (not the vegetarian kind) masters.

One other possibility might be that Cassini found something interesting in the atmosphere of Titan. The probe recently did a high orbit pass of the moon to collect a sample. Titan is awfully cold so it's unlikely anything found there would be life as we know it. Especially since the atmosphere there is not compatible with Earth based life. Oceans of liquid methane on the surface, thick methane gas mixtures for air. Who knows.

Whatever it turns out to be should be fairly interesting and at least worth tuning in to watch at 11am PST (2pm EST). If it really is the Vegans then I welcome our new overlords with open arms.
"It is pointless to resist, my son." -- Darth Vader
"Resistance is futile." -- The Borg
"Mother's coming for me in the dragon ships. I don't like these itchy clothes, but I have to wear them or it frightens the fish." -- Thurindil

Well. I guess that's that then.

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Posted on Dec 2, 2010 1:55 am by Samson in: | 40 comment(s) [Closed]
Unfortunately, I've got a meeting that simply can't be rescheduled to attend today, but perhaps I'll set our DVR to record it. Having actually finally found ET would be pretty incredible as announcements go because if it's not been something widely observed, they're most likely to have covered it up for years while studying and deciding how they want the public to react to it first.

Don't bother. It's nothing nearly as exciting as they led on. They found some bacteria or something that lives in Mono Lake that is able to integrate arsenic into its chemistry. As if extremophiles here on Earth were surprising or huge news at all.

No aliens, no microbes on comets, no interesting stuff found on Titan. Just more of the same old BS. The guys in the news conference haven't even said anything useful. They just keep saying how they're going to try and explain why this is important and then doublespeaking their way through their segments without ever actually explaining something.

I thought NASA was a space agency, what are they doing bothering us about stuff here on Earth? :(

(nice blog image for this one though.)

They've been doing a lot of searching for those sorts of things on Earth because they want to see if there is types of life here that evolved from a 'separate tree' if you get the meaning (if not I'll come back and go into more detail).

What they're hoping is that this different type of life (weird life, its called) we be based around different types of molecules to us and/or has different functions, which should aid them in identifying life on other planets/comets.

It seems they've found an extremophile that's capable of doing something that they didn't think normal life could, which is a blow of sorts to research. Of course, why they're making a fuss over it and announcing it like that is beyond me, they should be well aware that nobody would care.

While I do get your meaning, I've now got a mental image of scientists at NASA drawing up a massive genealogy tree to show which tree the monkey hung out in from which they all descended specifically so they could declare war on those from neighboring trees... :whistle:

It's the attack of the rock monsters! Run from the hills! :lol:

Of course we should all care! This could set modern science on it's figurative head for decades to come yet, hell, it might even get the attention of Al Gore & Carl Sagan... er, um.. Stephen Hawkings. Yeah, I meant Hawkings... ;)

It's not actually that I don't care (I think its fascinating actually), but the average person probably isn't going to really understand or care. :smile:

This could set modern science on it's figurative head for decades to come yet, hell, it might even get the attention of Al Gore & Carl Sagan... er, um.. Stephen Hawkings. Yeah, I meant Hawkings...

Well, no it won't. What it will do is open whole new avenues of investigation and discovery. In this case, it will open up the possibility of life in an atmosphere that's different than ours; essentially meaning the Vorlon are a possibility. I would fully expect Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawkings to be interested in this.... Al Gore...not so much.

but the average person average liberal american politician probably isn't going to really understand or care


It's certainly interesting but I don't think it was worth the kind of hype NASA made out of it ahead of time. It just means that Earth based life is capable of living in more extreme conditions that we realized. And that this life form in particular has a unique characteristic. None of this proves it could survive in a non-Earth environment though.

I was teasing prettyfly, Dallen. This only touches climate matters indirectly at best so it's not going to be likely to even catch Gore's notice. As for Hawkings or Sagan, well, they might find it interesting, but it's really more a means to demonstrate that life really is possible outside the narrow parameters we've previously considered than anything else. I imagine it'll spawn a new breed of scientist, but it'll be one of those smaller and less popular fields in all likelihood because there just aren't going to be that many folks rushing to study extremophiles all of the sudden. It's really a bit too obscure for most high school kids to want to learn about.

Overall, it is interesting though, because it does mean that the narrow range of conditions we've always restricted our consider to in regards to life sustainable planetary conditions wasn't broad enough so we could easily be missing things in our search for others out there, but I suspect that it still doesn't remove the main requirement yet of the world requiring a significant water presence. On the other hand, I didn't see the program so, maybe I'm wrong about that. What was the gist? Were these not carbon based life forms? Were these creatures that have no water content and which don't breathe oxygen? Unfortunately, as Samson said initially, their new release is extremely vague and does not provide any details.

It's a bacterium that can survive in arsenic instead of hydrogen. Other than that, it needs everything any other life form needs.


But it does mean (provided we ever find some) that life 'could possibly exist' on worlds who's atmospheres are not 'exactly' the same as earth. That means the odds just went up: how much, is impossible to tell.

Do you mean Oxygen as opposed to Hydrogen?

Well, yes, that's basically what I was saying. We've always judged it not important to study worlds that didn't have an atmosphere that was basically the same as our own when searching for life. If this means that we now know life can exist that doesn't have the same requirements as life on Earth (really more like finally accepting that life could exist in forms that have adapted to environments that would be hostile to our form of life) then our search parameters have been expanded quite a bit.

Oh boy. So it looks like NASA pulled a fast one on everyone. The bacteria they "discovered" in Mono Lake was actually grown in a lab:

San Jose Mercury News said:

To observe the process, the research team grew the bacteria in Petri dishes in which phosphate salt was gradually replaced by arsenic, until the bacteria could grow without needing phosphate. Using radio tracers, the team closely followed the path of arsenic in the bacteria, from the chemical's uptake to its incorporation into various cellular components.

I know it's still a really cool thing to happen, but this kind of sleight of hand is why so many people are so skeptical of scientific discoveries. Artificially inducing the change in a lab means it's no longer a natural life form, and if you've forced it to uptake arsenic you can't put it back where you found it or the natural phosphates will kill it.

Edited by Samson on Dec 6, 2010 8:01 pm
That wouldn't make the discovery suspicious; that part is still valid. It is kind of unethical, but it is evidence that at least that particular species can evolve to survive in arsenic, and do so relatively quickly. I'm just waiting for when we can make a life-form in the lab; as opposed to forcing an existing one to adapt to artifically induced circumstances.

I'll bet you though that if you took the stuff directly from the lake and threw it in a petri dish with no acclimation period, they'd die. So I think it's just a bit premature to declare it an evolutionary feat.

Much like humans can build up immunity to otherwise poisonous materials over time, but sudden immersion without that length of time generally means death.

The discovery isn't even technically a discovery. More of an invention. The bacteria was engineered to do this.

I would have to agree that it sounds more like a feat of biological engineering than a true "discovery" beyond the discovery of the fact that they can make it work. It's still remarkable that they've found a life form that can adapt to arsenic in place of salt/phosphates, but this sort of mild deception in their public announcement of it does give a semblance of credence to the conspiracy theorists who've always claimed that the lunar landing was faked, which is probably the last thing NASA needs these days.

That's no moon.... it's a space station!

Well, evolution is a slow process generally; but yes if you through it from the river into the aresenic without an acclimation period it would die.

Um, that's not the conspiracy theory I was referring to.. :P

So, do you suppose they could reverse the acclimation period to be able to return it to it's original habitat without harm?

I imagine it would be possible, but there far more likely to just let it die. It's bacteria-not Bambi.

I wasn't thinking in humanitarian terms, but in terms of have they forced an evolutionary "advancement" or just demonstrated an adaptability.

Well, bacteria evolve far faster than any multi-cellular lifeforms. Considering the description, I would consider what has happened to the bacteria evolution, even if it was induced by laboratory conditions.

@ Conner: Adaptation is evolution, or at least the precurser of it; if the adaptation a) is short term, b) causes no changes in the frequency of aleles we call it 'adaptation' ; if the adaptation a) is long term, b) causes changes in the frequency of aleles in the organism it's evolution. Evolution is adapting to the environment, and it happens all the time. Which means, prettyfly got it right. (for once) ;)

Release it back into the wild and if it survives, I'll agree it's Evolution. Since that's not going to happen though, it's nothing more than genetic engineering.

:facepalm: Genetic engineering is evolution which has been introduced by an intelligent agent.

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