Science

Lavatory of the Gods? NASA Keeps Finding Alien Life Everywhere But Space

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Welcome your new microbial masters.

Are our basins, tubs and tiles being watched with envious eyes by intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic?

NASA, which has been priming the pump all week for a big press conference that starts in about twenty minutes, seems to think so.

Early leaks indicate the government space agency will announce that it has discovered an arsenic-based bacterium in Mono Lake, California.

We'll have to wait for the official announcement, but NASA's unexplained involvement makes this is a little more I Love the Nineties than even I would like. Oldsters may remember the pomp and circumstance President Bill Clinton brought to his "life on Mars" announcement back in 1996—which turned out to be microbial fossils discovered on Earth that may or may not have originated elsewhere. (The nearly total lack of followup on this publicity stunt in the 14 years since—and the failure of repeat missions to discover any life on the Red Planet itself—creates little confidence that the 1996 discovery was truly an early ancestor of Ray Walston.)

No doubt, an arsenic-based life form is pretty exciting stuff. But there's a step missing when you presume a mystery without clear earthly explanation must have an extraterrestrial solution. Maybe the conference will explain which cryptobiological Erich von Däniken thought NASA needed to be making this announcement. Wake me up when they find outer space life in outer space.

On the plus side, at least this time the president isn't bothering with the press conference. Also, it's been a good week for bacteria: Apparently E. coli can now solve sudoku.

NEXT: Careful Shoppers Put the Y Back in Xmas

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  1. We’ll find nonterrestrial life when we start sending terrestrial life to look for it.

    The 1996 meteorite and even some of the Viking findings leave open the possibility of life or past life on Mars. Unfortunately, we need more data that we’re in no hurry to get.

    The good news is that with all of the new space activities, life may be discovered (on Mars) in 2026 by an Indian tourist who will kick up a Martian mushroom while waiting in line at Mars Disney.

    1. Then there’s the thorny question of what constitutes life in the first place.

      Biologists can’t even decide if viruses are life or not, so I don’t think they have any reliable criteria in place to judge something from a totally alien biota. The definition I personally like is a physical system whose entropy increases more slowly than its surroundings for a long period of time.

      1. I’m okay with us focusing on life that does stuff kind of like life on Earth for now. If we don’t find anything that way, then we can look for rocks that self-organize. The former would be easier for us to look for, is my thinking.

      2. Biologists can’t even decide if viruses are life or not

        Is it really their decision to make?

        1. It’s life if you can kill it.

          1. Are you saying that Chuck Norris is not life?

            1. That’s right.

          2. It’s life if you can kill it.

            Fire?

            1. Life.

            2. I know…

              It’s life if you can kill it with fire!

          3. A UNIX process?

      3. It performs respiration in one form or another. Oxidizing organic matter to make ATP.

        1. I find my explanation much simpler and far more tautological.

        2. It performs respiration in one form or another.

          Like Fire?

          1. Why are you always on about fire, joshua?

        3. That smacks of biota chauvinism. An alien life form would almost certainly not produce energy the same way terrestrial ones do.

          1. Other matter can be oxidized.

            Ever hear of rust?

  2. I haven’t had any biology since 9th grade, but I’d think if it’s arsenic-based it’s not a bacterium.

    1. In other news, Tulpa admits ignorance of subject matter yet this does not stop him from stating his thoughts on the matter anyway. Stay tuned for more gentle readers.

      1. What does Tulpa’s ignorance have to do with the arrival of more gentle readers?

      2. Does this mean that you’ve turned away from the Dark Side?

      3. Ah, but our system is based on valuing the opinions of the ignorant.

        1. This goes a long way towards explaining your jealousy of Max and Tony. /sarc

    2. It’s replacing phosphorus with arsenic but it can use both.

      It lives in a place with a lot of heavy metals and is assigned to one of the most primitive categories of life.

      Likely enough, life may have started off using arsenic but eventually starting using phosphorus because it has higher potential energy in the bonds it makes with other element.

      It suggests that the list of basic elements necessary to create life may be longer than we thought.

      1. Oh, that makes more sense. I thought they were claiming it used arsenic in place of carbon (as terrestrial life is said to be carbon-based).

        1. No, carbon would be replaced by silicon in the analogous situation. There’s a small list of elements present in all normal living things. It’s frequently been hypothetized that they could each be replaced by something else in the same chemical group, usually the one in the next row (because the farther down you go, the more rare things get.)

  3. I halfway expect them to announce they’ve re-animated Carl Sagan with a Kush and Jaegermeister filled bong.

    I really hope they don’t find anything alive on Mars. As soon as they do, the whole “hands off Mars!” Prime Directive stupidity will blossom faster than algae in a pig farm runoff pond.

    1. “they’ve re-animated Carl Sagan with a Kush and Jaegermeister filled bong.”

      Dude, they totally already did that:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSgiXGELjbc

      (This guy told me about it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJdF8DJ70Dc )

      1. Does he have a glowing blue weiner?

        1. Actually, billions and billions of them.

          1. Or at least one sagan of them…

        2. That is unclear from the image. We’re scientists and cannot speculate without more data. We need more data, dammit!

          1. . . .and the grant money to study it!

            1. Well, yeah. How am I going to go to Mars and ask Dr. Sagan’s ghost about this burning issue, otherwise? Actually, I can’t go alone, because I don’t want to actually see his unit, blue or otherwise. So we’ll need a crack team of experts.

  4. Can’t wait for the arsenic-bacteria marketing gold-rush, ? la all things “nano”: arsenic-bug based paints, toothpaste (it’s safe! Really!), and non-stick surface coatings for cookware!

    I hear speculation you can mash ’em up and get a cool irridescent sheen for new dyes on vinyl and maybe even leather goods: hello sparkly Nikes!

    The brave new world awaits!

    Thank you, NASA.

  5. I think it’s high time the private sector assume primary responsibility for space exploration. Like many other federal agencies, NASA’s health is failing and budget cuts have caused major project cancellations. We know there are resources to be exploited throughout the solar system and private companies and individuals should be allowed to seize the opportunity.

    1. Hell, yes. And the government needs to stay the heck out of the way.

      1. Asteroid mining and pushing ice. Lotta money in them there rocks.

        1. Yes, but don’t forget tourism, space porn, low/micro-gravity manufacture, and using asteroids for blackmail (very lucrative).

          1. You’d think that after having one of the astronauts driving cross country wearing a diaper to go after her rival in a love triangle, they’d drop the fucking pretense and go ahead and post some youpr0n clips already. You know that the NASA poindexters have gotten busy on orbit. . .

            1. Seriously, what do you think the Bigelow space hotels are going to profit from?

              1. Already got a nice pair of 3d specs picked out and waiting.

                1. It sure ain’t going to be people wanting to look down on the Earth. That fad will get old in a year or so.

                  1. Meebee. Busch Gardens has had Alpengeist for years and years, and there’s still always a huge line, even on slow days.

                    1. Busch Gardens is cheap. A ticket for a day is basically an annual pass nowadays.

                      Orbit won’t be cheap for a while.

    2. There are resources to be exploited in Antarctica, which far less hostile an environment than any place in the solar system outside of Earth’s crust. But private companies don’t seem to be chomping at the bit to operate there.

      1. Isn’t all of antarctica a kind of nature reserve with no mining etc allowed?

        1. Yes, but it’s not like private companies are lobbying to get out of that treaty.

      2. I don’t know this for sure, but with all of the treaties and “pristine wilderness” attitudes about Antarctica, I bet there are some serious impediments to commercial exploitation of the continent.

        1. True, but at least you don’t have to deal with escaping a gravity well.

          1. No doubt. Until we can get low-cost access to orbit, nothing major is going to happen commercially outside of LEO.

            1. Nah, it’ll just take a while. Effin morons could strap a good sized motor and a bit of extra stores provisions on the ISS and go tooling around right now, if anyone wanted to.

              1. You know what? I’m tired of waiting. I was born while my father was working on the Apollo program and have been waiting for the Space Age to begin.

                I’m going home to build a space elevator out of Legos.

              2. What’s it going to use for propulsion, and aether propeller?

                1. My space elevator? It’s going to use a mechanical system for, you know, elevating stuff from the ground to space.

                  1. I was responding to Wind Rider’s comment about strapping a motor to the ISS. Insufficiently nested comments strike again!

                2. What would you like to use? There are a number of options, each with their own pros and cons. Personally, i’d go with a mixed system, combining a chemically reactive system (for high V) and an ion-type (for long term continuous V).

                  Schedule a few Energia and other heavy lifters to chuck up bulk storage, several tons of water, maybe some spare O2 for good measure, dock several Soyuz modules for use as runabouts, and away we go.

                  Hell of a lot better idea than admitting they’ve gotten bored and run out of middle school science demos, and chucking the whole thing into the Pacific and scaring the bejezus out of the Kiwis like they did with Mir.

                  1. Those aren’t motors.

                    1. Fusion.

                    2. What, you were expecting me to say “strap a supercharged 454 to that bitch!”?

                      Now see, this is why people think rocket science is hard, being all picky about technical labeling and shit.

                    3. Mentos and Diet Coke?

                    4. Sentence fragments? Just phrases?

                    5. That sound a lot like “Don’t open the airlo ” perhaps? See what we can do about that!

                    6. Those aren’t pillows!

  6. The nearly total lack of followup on this publicity stunt in the 14 years since

    I followed it.

    There was lots of debate and articles and shit. I don’t know who was supposed to follow up? The media? Clinton? NASA?

    This i got from Wikipedia:

    In November 2009, NASA scientists said that a recent, more detailed analysis showed that the meteorite “contains strong evidence that life may have existed on ancient Mars”.[26]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_on_Mars

  7. Watch for a followup press conference, in which Daniel Jackson reveals that the bacterium speaks a variant of ancient Egyptian.

    1. And then disappears from general public interaction, re-appearing randomly to talk confusing smack to people that thought they used to know him, with shit randomly blowing up.

  8. they have found a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today. Instead of using phosphorus, the bacteria uses arsenic.

    HOLY FUCKING SHIT?!?!?!?!?!

    1. If only it were silicon-based. That would be cool.

      1. I volunteer to give it a dandruff shampoo enema!

      2. That would be a Horta, dude.

        1. Which would be bad for us, as we have no Vulcans to mind meld with it.

          1. No, but we already know that we can use bags of portland cement for wampum beads.

          2. Does the Vulcan internet have trolls?

            Fuck you, Sarek! Your just a shill for the Academy of science!

            1. Yes, but their trolls are unemotional and logical.

              In response to a post on Sarek’s blog where he advocates an increase in Starfleet funding: “Your reasoning is inherently flawed, Sarek, as you have married a human and sired a halfbreed abomination upon her.”

              1. If their blood is copper-based, how can you tell the difference between a nosebleed and thick line of snot?

                1. Vulcans don’t have snot.

                  1. It’s too undignified.

                    1. If you’ve got a nose, you got snot. All that sand? They got snot.

                    2. Fascinating and logical snot, undoubtedly.

                    3. Actually, it is snot that struggles to remain logical despite the intense emotions churning about its mucosal psyche.

                    4. I told you, no snot. Instead, they employ intelligent shapechangers to keep their nostrils lubricated and clean.

                    5. If you’re not going to take this discussion seriously, PL, I don’t see the point in having it.

                    6. Sorry, I got carried away. Obviously, the Vulcans wouldn’t abuse an intelligent organism that way.

                      That’s why they suck its brains out before shoving it up their nose.

        2. NO KILL I

          1. Good point. We don’t need no arrogant stuck up Vulcan assholes. Hortas can text!

    2. Wait a minute if it uses arsenic instead of phosphorus, as in the Phosphate-deoxyribose back bone, wouldn’t it be called something else instead of “DNA”?

      1. Not necessarily. Deoxyribose is the sugar attachment. Nucleic acid is a generic term for the class of molecules that encode instructions.

  9. “No doubt, an arsenic-based life form is pretty exciting stuff. But there’s a step missing when you presume a mystery without clear earthly explanation must have an extraterrestrial solution.”

    Well if it didn’t come from God space, how could it gotten here? Evolution? Don’t be ridiculous.

    1. Sidestepping the joke for a moment, something like this could always predate our type of life. I think that’s supposed to be true for some anaerobic organisms.

      1. The DNA aspect was produced by scientists shaping the environment to further reduce access to P, if I’m not mistaken. Before that, it was just capable of high arsenic tolerance (you could say “arsenic substitution”, but human metabolism also substitutes arsenic for phosphorous — it’s just that doing so kills us, which is why arsenic is toxic)

    2. Carbon based life wouldn’t evolve into an arsenic based life form.

      1. Don’t you lack formal biological training?

        Actually, come to think of it, the last biology course I had was in 10th grade.

        1. You don’t need formal biological training to know that.

          1. Do too.

              1. Your mother was an arsenic-based whore.

                1. Whoa. There’s no reason to bring his whore mother into this, dude.

                  1. I’m using my 10th grade biology skills to overcome his 9th grade biology skills. Clearly, I’m winning.

                    1. My mother has more biology skills than yours.

                    2. I find that hard to conceive.

      2. It’s still carbon based, math man. It uses As instead of P.

  10. But there’s a step missing when you presume a mystery without clear earthly explanation must have an extraterrestrial solution.

    They are not saying it is extraterrestrial. They are saying it ups the chances of extraterrestrial life. In other words they found out life can take on a different form then what we have seen…which means it can take a different form on other planets as well.

    More possibilities equals more possibilities.

    here is the offending quote from the article:

    The implications of this discovery are enormous to our understanding of life itself and the possibility of finding beings in other planets that don’t have to be like planet Earth.

    1. Except…this life form was found on a planet like Earth. Being based on arsenic doesn’t mean it could evolve somewhere with vastly different temperatures and pressures.

      1. Whatever…the point was that they did not say what Tim was accusing them of saying.

        They could be wrong about what they actually said as well as being wrong about what Tim said they said but didn’t actually say.

  11. Speaking to the 1996 ‘Life on Mars’ announcement.

    The reason there is little followup is because the issue of whether they were actually microbes or not is in dispute.

    The authors stand by their results, but a number of scientists have claimed that the “fossils” maybe actually be artifacts of a thermal heating process caused by ejection of the rock from Mars and re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

    The fact that the rock originated on mars is NOT in dispute.

    1. Not by you, maybe.

      1. Because I contend it came from Phobos! Yes, Phobos!

        1. Is Phobos the one Sagan “proved” was hollow?

  12. If life is discovered on other planets in this solar system, current thinking is that it’s likely to have originated on Earth and sporulated to the other planets.

    1. Earthist!

      Or, better yet, Terraist!

      1. If we don’t get our asses to Mars, the Terraists will have won.

        1. People tend to drastically underestimate the number of Terraists out there, too.

  13. VIDEO: NASA Footage of UFO Fleet Leaving Earth… Famed NASA Astronaut confirms Extraterrestrials are here… (VIDEO): Apollo Astronaut Edgar Mitchell: The UFO crash in Roswell Dr. Edgar Mitchell… Pravda: Extraterrestrial Spaceships Land and Crash on Earth Regularly… Pope’s star watcher to visit Nasa (12th February 2009) and talk aliens:
    http://cristiannegureanu.blogs…..earth.html

  14. “Wake me up when they find outer space life in outer space

  15. It’s not surprising that the OpenIonosphere libertarians at this branch of the Kochtopus take this lightly, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to. There’s one thing you can do to prevent the ArsenicMenace from destroying our country.

    1. Find an arsenic bacterium.
    2. Subject it to a tough stimulus.
    3. Post its response on YouTube.

    PS: If anyone responds to this, their responses will almost certainly be ad homs, conceding my points and displaying the childish, anti-intellectual nature of libertarians.

    1. We concede nothing, but will still probably space you out of the nearest newly motorized ISS airlock so that Vulcans can hock a lugee on ya, and then chuckle at the Horta’s twitter feed about your predicament.

      1. Strange how it all comes together, huh?

  16. How do we keep them from taking jobs from us phosphorophagics?

    1. Limit the amount of arsenic in our biosphere and ensure adequate access to phosphorous. Their arsenic tolerance will be a useless superpower, like if Superman gained superhuman strength and speed from Krypton’s sun rather than ours.

  17. “NASA’s unexplained involvement makes this is a little more I Love the Nineties than even I would like.”

    Doing research on extremophiles gives us a better idea of what various kinds of life we can expect to see outside of the Earth. Which is why I guess NASA is funding it.

    1. I’d like to go on record as saying that when some astronaut digs up a totally alien organism on, say, Titan, he’s not going to be a NASA employee. Instead, he’s going to be some actor who paid TWS (Transworld Spacelines) to fly to Titan on vacation.

  18. I think we need volunteers to eat these newly discovered life forms. I know a few people I hope will volunteer.

  19. and circumstance President Bill Clinton brought to his “life on Mars” announcement back in 1996 — which turned out to be microbial fossils discovered on Earth that may or ma

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