WE WILL ALL DIE OF SUSPENSE BEFORE FIRST CONTACT.
On June 7, 2018, NASA published a press release claiming that the Martian Rover, 'Curiosity,' has found organic compounds in Martian soil.
“Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes”
says Jen Eigenbrode, Superstar of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-finds-ancient-organic-material-mysterious-methane-on-mars).
There are a large number of unfounded conclusions a human can draw from this study. However, all these conclusions are the result of excitement and sentiment getting the best of ponderous and exact study. Perhaps then, it is best if we simply name our sentiment, here at the beginining of the article. The presence of organic compounds on Mars is very very nice.
We don't know much about the compounds beyond the presence of carbon in forms that would fit nicely into large organic molecules. Fortunately, BIOCOSMOPOLITAN is here to inform you of exactly what really happened!
Three Flavors of LIFE ON MARS!
If similar to earth, then life on Mars (LOM) is plausibly of the same origin as Life on Earth (LOE), with Mars being the more likely origin. "Similar to Earth" we'll define as having the following characteristics:
- Life has DNA.
- Life has some kind of metabolism that is recognizable as metabolism.
- Life happens inside a cell membrane.
- Living compounds have identical chirality (left hand / right hand isomers) as comparable compounds on Earth. For instance, amino acids are right handed, and sugars are left handed. Thats just how it is around here. If some wacky microbe wants to put it's left hand on it's right butt cheek, we can't properly call that normal. And if Martian life happens to do it just like we do, then we can safely assume they learned from the best. Or we did, rather. Mars has less gravity and a thinner atmosphere, and it's more likely to have flung goop at Earth than the other way around.
If it turns out to be very different from Earth, LOM is evidence that the universe teems with biological activity. If life just so happens to exist on Earth, and just so happens to exist in a totally different form on the planet closest to Earth, doubting the existence of life elsewhere will have become much less reasonable. Living organisms containing structures totally different than DNA could very well saturate the universe.
Microbes that differ from LOE would be very difficult to find, because we have no idea what we are looking for, or looking at.
In fact, the argument has been made that such microbes exist on Earth, and simply have not been identified correctly as living. One example of the lack of clarity when it comes to weird life is 'desert varnish', which occurs on undisturbed rocks. Carol Cleland argues that it's alive, in her poem titled "Epistemological issues in the study of microbial life: alternative terran biospheres?"
"of terran microbial life. Desert varnish, a mysterious hard dark coating found on rock in arid regions, provides perhaps the best candidate. There is no scientific consensus on how it is produced despite the fact that geologists have extensively studied it; even Darwin found it puzzling (Darwin, 1871, pp. 12–13). Consisting of extremely thin chemical and mineralogical layers, it bears an uncanny morphological resemblance to stromatolites, primitive microbial mats that still exist on Earth today, the fossilized remains of which date back at least 3.5 billion years. Even more provocatively, varnish coatings are enriched in manganese and iron despite the fact that the rocks on which they are found are not. To many geologists this intriguing combination of microstructural and chemical features suggests a microbial origin, particularly since bacteria and algae commonly produce manganese or iron as by-products of metabolism. Yet microbes are infrequently found on varnish surfaces, as they are on living stromatolites, and PCR analysis of 16S rRNA genes extracted from coatings and surrounding rocks and soils vary from region to region, suggesting that no one group of bacteria, let alone single variety, is responsible for the coatings (Perry et al., 2002). Furthermore, attempts to produce varnish-like coatings in laboratory settings using bacteria and algae have been unsuccessful. The question of whether desert varnish has a biological origin is thus still hotly debated."
"Shadow Biosphere" is a term that just might get you fork-stabbed at the Bio Department cafeteria. Desert varnish isn't the only example of hotly contested science on life's frontier. In California's Mono Lake, several scientists had themselves convinced they'd found a microbe that replaced the phosphorus in it's DNA with arsenic, making it not quite DNA, and thus, completely new. For those of you out there without the blessing of a background in biology, this would have been orders of magnitude stranger then having millions of penises for hair, or a blimp made of living puppies. It was so astoundingly alien and frankly impossible that the scientific community did not rest until it was proven that the arsenic replacement didn't quite happen. As it turns out, the microbe was simply capable of living almost entirely without phosphorus, in an arsenic rich environment that would have immediately killed every other known creature on Earth. The conflagration in the scientific community thus calmed, since this new state of affairs is only marginally more fucked up than having hot dogs for teeth.
The whole topic drives evolutionary biologists crazy, because it's like asking them about the view from the back of their head. There's no way they could know where to look when they have no idea what to look for. With this said, the wonderful world of "Shadow Biosphere" theory is fecund with endless opportunities for science and fiction alike.
Perhaps, the reality is a mess. Who the fuck knows. If life-like substances continue to be found on Mars, and something vaguely akin to an ecosystem exists on a planetary scale, but does not include DNA as we know it, or any recognizable cell structure, yet seems to climb entropy in a similar way as LOE, humanity's brain will fizzle. There is no simple replacement for the billion year relationship we have with our home planet, and it will be generations, at the least before any human understanding of Martian existence is worth a damn.
We have absolutely no idea whether the Curiosity Rover just pyrolized an entire nation of teensy Martians. Perhaps they had dreams of better things. What did they think, when the deathly shadow of human intervention swallowed their microbial sky? What lies did they tell their doomed, frightened children? Will they retaliate with subtle weapons forged beyond our comprehension? We'll never know or care. Go back to sleep, gentle consumer. The authorities have everything well under control.