Presidential Science Advisor Briefed On Potential For Mars Life

This in an interesting story from Aviation Week

They say “the data relate to habitability” But it makes you wonder why they had to brief the Presidential Science Advisor on this.

UPDATE: Apparently the science team has had no official response, but has been using a twitter account to downplay the story. We do indeed live in interesting times. – Anthony

UPDATE2: From Slashdot- “In an update to the little green men story of not-life-on-Mars, NASA has twittered: ‘The buzz this weekend was due to an interesting soil chemistry finding, still preliminary, but now avail here:’ where ‘here’ is NASA Spacecraft Analyzing Martian Soil Data. The exciting bit: ‘Within the last month, two samples have been analyzed by the Wet Chemistry Lab of the spacecraft’s Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer, or MECA, suggesting one of the soil constituents may be perchlorate, a highly oxidizing substance.’ Also, ‘NASA will hold a media teleconference on Tuesday, Aug. 5, at 2 p.m. EDT, to discuss these recent science activities.'”

Aug 1, 2008  By Craig Covault

The White House has been alerted by NASA about plans to make an announcement soon on major new Phoenix lander discoveries concerning the “potential for life” on Mars, scientists tell Aviation Week & Space Technology.

Sources say the new data do not indicate the discovery of existing or past life on Mars. Rather the data relate to habitability–the “potential” for Mars to support life–at the Phoenix arctic landing site, sources say.

The data are much more complex than results related NASA’s July 31 announcement that Phoenix has confirmed the presence of water ice at the site.

International news media trumpeted the water ice confirmation, which was not a surprise to any of the Phoenix researchers. “They have discovered water on Mars for the third or fourth time,” one senior Mars scientists joked about the hubbub around the water ice announcement.

The other data not discussed openly yet are far more “provocative,” Phoenix officials say.

In fact, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory science team for the MECA wet-chemistry instrument that made the findings was kept out of a July 31 news conference at the University of Arizona Phoenix control center. The goal was to prevent them from being asked any questions that could reveal information before NASA is ready to make an announcement, sources say.

The Bush Administration’s Presidential Science Advisor’s office, however, has been briefed on the new information that NASA hopes to release as early as mid August. It is possible an announcement would not come until September, to allow for additional analysis. That will depend upon the latest results still being analyzed from the spacecraft’s organic oven and soil chemistry laboratories.

Phoenix scientists have said from the start that neither the TEGA organic chemistry lab nor the MECA wet chemistry system could detect current or past life.

MECA’s two microscopes do, however, have the resolution to detect bacteria–which would be life. Sources, however, say the microscopes have not detected bacteria.

The Phoenix scoop was successful in delivery of a soil/ice mixture to TEGA this week after the material stuck in the scoop on two tries. The analysis of that sample is under way. The sample contains about 1% ice and 99% soil.

As expected, the instrument immediately detected hydrogen and oxygen atoms indicating water. Its electricity load also increased initially, a positive sign that water ice was being melted by the system.

The fact TEGA is starting to process some ice samples “had champagne corks popping” here, says William Boynton TEGA principal investigator from the University of Arizona. “We have tasted the water and it tastes great,” he said.

Before launch, some website literature by the TEGA team indicated it possibly could find organic evidence of “past” life. Both Boynton and Peter Smith, who heads the mission now, say that is not the case, although TEGA organic data could start major new arguments about life.

It has yet to find organics, but still has several sample ovens available to make such a discovery. An electrical short that earlier threatened TEGA operations has resolved itself, Boynton says.

News media cited the water ice finding as a major discovery, but it was totally expected by the science team. The different MECA data combined with TEGA is increasingly compelling as another piece in the puzzle of life.

The key is in the soil and water, and how the two behave together at that site on Mars, not the expected confirmation of water ice at this stage in the mission, Mars investigators told Aviation Week.

The MECA instrument, in its first of four wet chemistry runs a month ago, found soil chemistry that is “Earth-like” and capable of supporting life, researchers said then.

It is intriguing that MECA could have found anything more positive than that, but NASA and the University of Arizona are taking steps to prevent word from leaking out on the nature of the discovery made during MECA’s second soil test, in which water from Earth was automatically stirred with Martian soil.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
August 4, 2008 12:21 pm

Already confirmed as fake. No White House briefing, no ‘big announcement’.
REPLY: Do you have a reference on that?

Richard Wright
August 4, 2008 12:31 pm

Maybe they don’t want to stick their collective foot in their collective mouth like happened when they announced “evidence” of bacteria in that meteorite a few years ago. If they found some organic compounds (i.e., those containing carbon) there will doubtless be endless speculation about precursors of life. Something, I might add, we know nothing about since science has no plausible idea whatsoever of how life originated on earth, and therefore has no idea what a precursor to life would be.

August 4, 2008 12:33 pm

NASA uses Twitter to Shoot Down Mars Story
(Probably should have added a link the first time).

August 4, 2008 12:36 pm

It seems there is some substance to the story, and that the secrecy is due to an impending publication in Science, which has rather strict embargo rules. The smart money in the spaceflight community is on carbonates and/or nitrogenous compounds in the soil, neither has ever been found on Mars.

Arthur Glass
August 4, 2008 12:50 pm

This man was way ahead of the curve:

C. Rubin
August 4, 2008 1:29 pm

You might want to look at the Wired coverage of this suspect story:

David Gladstone
August 4, 2008 1:31 pm

From Fox news:
[copyrighted story removed. next time put up link as i’m doing now~charles the moderator.]
Here’s the story David Gladstone cut and pasted.

August 4, 2008 1:53 pm

They should make Mars and the Moon tax free zones for 100 years. Any profit by a company, here or there, would be tax free.
We’d have settlements there in 4 years.
Just think of the Banks that would be operated from there alone, it would put the Caribbean tax havens out of business.

Mike McMillan
August 4, 2008 2:04 pm

Apologies for posting off-topic, but I figured I should get this out before global warming induced TS Eduoard shuts me down.
I’m a sun person, and I just came across this interesting chart –
VIRGO is part of the SOHO mission. Web site for more –

Bill Illis
August 4, 2008 2:08 pm
Mike McMillan
August 4, 2008 2:11 pm

Okay, the pdf download is awkward. I refer to the first solar irradiance chart on the web page.

Andrew W
August 4, 2008 2:42 pm

Mike McMillan, congratulations on discovering the last solar cycle.

Terry S
August 4, 2008 2:47 pm

Re: David Gladstone
David, you have cut and pasted an entire news story including the copyright notice that states “This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.”. You have, in fact redistributed the story.
Cutting and pasting an entire news story goes way beyond any “fair use” doctrine that might apply. Quoting part of a news item and linking to the rest is usually okay.
I would advise any moderators reading this to remove the post.
Reply: agreed, I will edit it–sloppy of me to have let it through~charles the moderator

David Gladstone
August 4, 2008 2:57 pm

Sorry I was in a hurry, and I meant it as a reply to Anthony who hadn’t seen it; and finaly, to be fair, it doesn’t violate fair use doctrine at all, if you understand the meaning of the doctrine. Poorly truncated articles are also no use to anyone.

David Segesta
August 4, 2008 2:58 pm

Looks like we can put the “life on Mars” story in the file labeled phony, along with AGW.

Terry S
August 4, 2008 3:44 pm

David, this isn’t a forum for discussion on copyright, but you might find this section of U.S. Copyright law instructive

§ 107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use40
Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include —
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Reprinting an article in its entirety would be a breach because of (3).

Robert Wood
August 4, 2008 4:40 pm

It appears that NASA has created the perfect funding feeding frenzy.

Tom in Florida
August 4, 2008 4:52 pm

Phil: “NASA uses Twitter to Shoot Down Mars Story”
Ahh, Roswell sweet Roswell.

Robert Wood
August 4, 2008 4:53 pm

Hey, Tim Rueb, I’ve tried to sell this idea for some years.
The First Lunar Bank
All it requires is a computer, databank server and communications equipment.
Seriously, if anyone is interested, call me.

August 4, 2008 5:54 pm

It’s good that the question has finally been answered. However, it’s not all that simple. They’ve also found an oxidizing substance that they say is “detrimental” to us. We’ve got a long way to go before we can actually see a benefit in the red planet.

August 4, 2008 6:05 pm

“They’ve also found an oxidizing substance that they say is “detrimental” to us.” Custom Valances
The solution is obvious: The oxidizing substance must be reduced to a safe level.

August 4, 2008 6:10 pm

David Gladstone (13:31:13) wrote: “…From Fox news…”
Even if the article didn’t violate any copywrite laws, be careful of anything that author has to say. From her past contributions on “Live Science” and “Space,” one can only conclude she is a seriously challenged Pogie!
Jack Koenig, Editor
The Mysterious Climate project

August 4, 2008 6:13 pm

no denier, no pogie, no warmista please.

August 4, 2008 6:26 pm

“It appears that NASA has created the perfect funding feeding frenzy.”
Well, one of the presidential candidates flipped over the weekend from slashing NASA’s budget to full support for NASA. Almost makes you wonder if Friday’s “leak” of an important discovery on Mars had any influence on that decision?

August 4, 2008 6:37 pm

mark (18:26:45) wrote: “Well, one of the presidential candidates flipped over the weekend from slashing NASA’s budget to full support for NASA. Almost makes you wonder if Friday’s “leak” of an important discovery on Mars had any influence on that decision?”
Which candidate was that? Any link?
Jack Koenig, Editor
The Mysterious Climate project

August 4, 2008 7:19 pm

Finding life on Mars is not in NASA best interest. If indigenous life confirmed,
you can kiss good by any human exploration…

August 4, 2008 8:46 pm

Looks like any White House briefing may have been premature:
“NASA’s Phoenix lander has discovered a toxic chemical in soil near Mars’ north pole, dimming hopes for finding life on the Red Planet, the probe’s operators said Monday.”

August 5, 2008 4:27 am

From the Orlando Sentinel:
“In a dramatic reversal of policy, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama on Saturday told supporters on the Space Coast he no longer favors slashing NASA’s budget, declaring that the United States “cannot cede our leadership in space.”,0,4293362.story
I see he was speaking on the Space Coast, so that is probably the reason for the dramatic reversal, not pending “life on Mars” news.

Evan Jones
August 5, 2008 10:03 am


Evan Jones
August 5, 2008 10:04 am

(The M’s don’t have spell check technology.)

August 5, 2008 2:35 pm

Over two hundred years ago the first Lubavitcher Rebbe said that because we learn that G-d made his World (i.e., the Universe) to be inhabited, then we should not be surprised to find life nearly everywhere in it.
“Velvel Green” asked the most recent Rebbe about whether or not he should look for life on Mars when he was working for NASA, and the Rebbe told him that if he didn’t find it there, he should look elsewhere, because according to our Sages it should be there, …just that it would not be human-like life, since that is unique to Earth.

August 5, 2008 9:56 pm

Why no word from SETI?
Is the human race not ready?
Or are we unique
and if so what does this speak?

August 6, 2008 4:38 am

Actually finding perchlorates on Mars would seem to slightly improve the chances of finding life there, since perchlorate-eating bacteria are quite common.

August 6, 2008 9:44 am

The question is, why wasn’t President Bush at that briefing? Why did it go to the science advisor, who gets consulted by Bush very seldom?
The answer is that Bush doesn’t care. He’s not curious about whether there’s life on Mars, especially if it won’t donate to his library.
Who wouldn’t want to get the news from NASA on some of the most exciting space exploration we have going, first?
George Bush.
REPLY: You are making assumptions not supported by facts. There is NO mention of “life on mars” only an increased potential for it to support it. See the update at the head of this post on perchlorates. And, the job of an advisor is to sort the wheat from chaff. Does Bush need to know about perchlorates on Mars, perhaps, but how do you know he hasn’t already been briefed on it?
“The answer is that Bush doesn’t care.” well that’s an opinion, not an answer.
Do you have his daily meeting schedule for the Oval Office where you can show that he has/has not been briefed?

Verified by MonsterInsights