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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1999 > Feb > Feb 1

Search For Underground Alien Life

From: Stig Agermose <stig.agermose@get2net.dk>
Date: Sun, 31 Jan 1999 05:52:47 GMT
Fwd Date: Mon, 01 Feb 1999 09:42:17 -0500
Subject: Search For Underground Alien Life



Links are preceded by asterisks.



Looking for life?

Look down deep  

By Alan Boyle

MSNBC Jan. 30 =97  If you're serious about the search for
extraterrestrial life, it's going to take more than rovers and
radio telescopes. You may have to look miles beneath the
surfaces of other worlds. Maybe the movie "Armageddon" got it
right: The best astronauts for interplanetary expeditions will
be deep drillers.

Last Years's big asteroid movie drew a Texas-sized share of
scorn for its improbable plot, which turned a ragtag gaggle of
oil-rig workers into a team of astronaut-heroes in a matter of
days. But for all its scientific sins, Arizona State University
geologist Jack Farmer hints that the people in charge of
planning missions to Mars could learn a thing or two from Bruce
Willis' character.

"They're going to have to get some experience on drilling rigs,"
Farmer said this week at the annual meeting of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science.

For years, Farmer has worked on NASA's strategies for exploring
the Red Planet and for seeking traces of ancient
extraterrestrial life =97 an endeavor for which he coined the term

The current theme for the quest on Mars has to do with water:
Did liquid water flow freely over the planet billions of years
ago? Where did it come from, and where did it go? Might the
presence of water have facilitated the development of life on
ancient Mars? Does the planet still exhibit a pattern of water
circulation on some level? 

If there is such a pattern =97 a "hydrologic cycle," to use
geological parlance =97 it would have to be active far beneath the
surface, Farmer said. Indeed, a growing number of scientists say
the water that once filled Martian valleys most likely came from
underground hydrothermal systems, rather than from an Earthlike
system of rivers, oceans and rain clouds.

"The valleys were carved by flowing water, but the water sprang
forth from beneath the surface and eroded the channels by a
process of =91sapping,' rather than by runoff of surface water,"
University of Colorado geologist Bruce Jakosky writes in
Friday's issue of the journal Science. "Although this probably
requires an ancient climate warmer than today's, it does not
necessarily require an atmosphere warm enough to allow
substantial atmospheric precipitation and runoff."

Those words echo the *view of Michael Malin, the principal
investigator for the camera aboard the Mars Global Surveyor
spacecraft now orbiting the planet.

Jakosky also points out that Global Surveyor's thermal emission
spectrometer found a large concentration of hematite, an
iron-bearing mineral that forms on Earth only in
high-temperature aqueous systems. "This is compelling evidence
for hydrothermal systems on Mars," he writes.     Such
hydrothermal systems could have provided a suitable environment
for the development of life on Mars, Jakosky says, and some form
of life may continue to lurk there, if only on the microscopic

But how do you test those amazing hypotheses? One strategy is to
take samples from those ancient valleys and flood plains, in the
hope that you can reconstruct the geological and perhaps even
the biological record. The recently launched Mars Surveyor 98
mission is designed to shoot *penetrators as far as 6 feet below
the planet's surface, and there are other plans to dig and
burrow for samples of subsurface soil.        

[*Sarah Gavit, project manager for the Deep Space 2 microprobes,
explains how the probes will be used during the Mars Surveyor 98

In the end, however, explorers may have to drill thousands of
feet into Mars. Indeed, Farmer said that just might be the main
justification for sending humans to Mars, perhaps sometime
within the next 20 years.

Mars isn't the only world where scientists want to go deep: For
example, researchers see ample evidence that a briny ocean lies
miles beneath the icy surface of *Europa, one of Jupiter's
moons. Such a body of water would be the No. 1 target in the
search for life elsewhere in the solar system. Some scientists
say even *Charon, Pluto's moon, might have a subsurface ocean.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory already is testing *robots that
might eventually burrow beneath the ice and sample those seas.

In all these cases, researchers will have to deal with the issue
of forward contamination: How do you guard against transferring
Earth's organisms to these otherworldly environments? Ruining
your samples would be the least of your problems: You could ruin
an entire global ecology in the process.

Avoiding such a catastrophe will require decades of planning,
and an ability to handle the controls with surgical skill. Hmmm
... come to think of it, maybe a bandoleer-bedecked Bruce Willis
type isn't the right person for the job after all.

For more information on the week's developments, click on the
links below. Please send your comments to Space News Editor Alan
Boyle at

*Dark cave may hold secrets of life
*Space station plan in flux again
*First images from Subaru Telescope
*Lunar orbiter lowers its orbit
*Gamma ray burst caught on tape

*Discuss the week's developments on the Space News Bulletin Board

There are many strategies in the search for extraterrestrial life.
Which do you think could be the most fruitful?*

26027 responses

Looking for traces of ancient life on Mars...............17%
Exploring the moons of Jupiter and Saturn..............15%
Listening for faraway radio signals...........................29%
Investigating distant Earthlike planets......................33%
None of the above (discuss on Space News BBS)...5%       
Survey results tallied every 60 seconds. Live Votes reflect
respondents' views and are not scientifically    valid surveys.

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