UFO UpDates
A mailing list for the study of UFO-related phenomena
'Its All Here In Black & White'
Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1998 > Jul > Jul 28

British Attempt To 'Sniff' Out Life On Mars

From: Stig Agermose <Stig_Agermose@online.pol.dk>
Date: Tue, 28 Jul 1998 09:16:30 +0200
Fwd Date: Tue, 28 Jul 1998 11:02:31 -0400
Subject: British Attempt To 'Sniff' Out Life On Mars

>From The Nando Times.





British to attempt to 'sniff' out life on Mars

Copyright =A91998 Nando.net
Copyright =A91998 Scripps Howard

(July 28, 1998 02:10 a.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com) --
British scientists hope to land an instrument on Mars that will
"sniff" the presence of life. Beagle 2 -- the name evokes
Charles Darwin's world-changing voyage aboard HMS Beagle in 1831
-- could be launched aboard a European mission called "Mars
Express" in 2003.

Beagle 2 will weigh just 132 pounds. It will have a camera and a
robotic arm to drill into the heart of nearby rocks. A robot
"mole" will burrow under boulders to examine soil chemistry. Its
package of X-ray and spectrometry instruments will measure the
potassium ratios of the rocks to date them accurately, and look
for evidence of organic chemicals and the presence of water. It
is hoped it will answer questions about the possibility of
bygone life.

But its most sensitive detectors will also sample the thin
atmosphere of the red planet for the most tantalizing prize of
all -- methane. Methane is produced by microbes acting as
digesters, often in conditions without oxygen. The process goes
on in swamps, termites' nests and the guts of mammals..

Colin Pillinger of the Open University (England) said: "If there
is anything, any place on Mars, even somewhere deep down, 2,000
kilometers (1,200 miles) away from our landing site,
contributing methane continuously to the atmosphere, then we
have a chance of picking it up. I don't expect there to be very
much. But if you don't find any methane at all, then you really
have to start believing this is a very dead planet."

A NASA Viking mission more than 20 years ago pronounced Mars a
dead planet. Two years ago, NASA scientists, peering at a
Martian meteorite found in Antarctica, announced that they could
see fossil traces of ancient bacteria in the meteoritic rock:
evidence of life long ago. Others see the fossils as accidents
of rock chemistry. The debate has raged on.

Since then, the NASA Pathfinder mission has confirmed that Mars
was once a warmer world on which water flowed.

"Forget fossils," says Pillinger. "I believe the conditions on
Mars tell us that water has been percolating around less than 3
billion years ago, and it was warm, and therefore, somewhere
nicely hidden away from its oxidizing surface, there are
environments that may be geothermally heated, that could be
niches for life.

"We know now on Earth, 20 years after Viking, that life is much
more tenacious than we ever believed. It is able to survive in
some horrendous places on Earth, and therefore the chances of
finding it on Mars really need to be thought through and tried

There is a catch. The mission is being designed and planned by a
consortium from the Open University, the University of
Leicester, Matra Marconi Space at Bristol, the Martin-Baker
Aircraft Co., the Rutherford Appleton laboratory and others. But
its promoters need to find guarantees of $40 million in time to
meet an autumn deadline set by the European Space Agency.

By TIM RADFORD, The Guardian. Distributed by Scripps Howard News

Copyright =A91998 Nando.net