Guest “geological story telling” by David Middleton
The Case for Past Life on Mars Gets Stronger
But how much evidence is needed until we can say there’s proof?
By Dirk Schulze-Makuch
APRIL 13, 2020
In a new paper published in the International Journal of Astrobiology, Vincenzo Rizzo from the National Research Center in Cosenza, Italy, asks a provocative question: Why are many scientists reluctant to accept the use of geological methods to identify biological processes on Mars, when those methods are commonly used on Earth?
He points to a case in Germany from 1908, when a scientist by the name of Ernst Kalkowsky proposed that layered mounds, columns, and sheet-like sedimentary rocks called stromatolites were of biological nature. His contemporaries did not believe him. But Kalkowsky was later proven correct, when it was recognized that stromatolites formed because biofilms—composed of cyanobacteria and other microorganisms—trapped sediments. Stromatolites are now known to be the oldest evidence for life on Earth, stretching back at least 3.5 billion years, and they still exist in some remote regions, such as Shark Bay, Australia.
In his paper Rizzo follows in Kalkowsky’s footsteps by analyzing images from the Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers on Mars that indicate the presence of biotic macrostructures such as stromatolites. He suggests that if no non-biological explanation can be found, the images should be considered as possible candidates for Martian stromatolites. Rizzo shows many examples of structures that have an amazing resemblance to stromatolites on Earth.
[…]Air & Space Magazine
Why does this remind me of amateur crater hunters? Because, it’s interpreting photographic imagery without physically examining the rocks. The difference is that we can’t, yet, physically examine the rocks on Mars. The rovers and orbiters have provided us with a lot of data about the rocks. Meteorites found on Earth, thought to be from Mars, can be physically examined; but they aren’t representative of the sedimentary geology of Mars.
I have little doubt that when we finally send manned missions to Mars and study its sedimentary rocks in detail, we will find evidence of past microscopic life… But, just because a picture of something looks like a stromatolite, doesn’t mean it is a stromatolite. Lots of visual images of things on Mars turn out not to be what they first appeared to be.
Over the next 25 years, improved imagery revealed that the face was rather faceless…
Evidence is steadily mounting that Mars could have supported life in the past and there are tantalizing indications that the Red Planet might still support be microscopic organisms. So, unlike the Face on Mars and impact craters circled up on satellite images, there is reason to believe that geologic features resembling stromatolites, might actually be something like stromatolites… But, we can’t possibly know until astronauts bring Martian sedimentary rocks back home to Earth.
Scientists disagree on how to define stromatolites. A common definition goes something like: A laminated rock formed by the growth of blue-green algae (i.e., cyanobacteria)”. This definition is, in fact, such a gross oversimplification as be scientifically useless. It does contain a modicum of truth, however, in that the largest volume of stromatolitic formations was likely formed by biogenic processes involving photosynthetic cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria’s metabolic byproduct, oxygen, rusted the earth, pumped enormous oxygen poison to them into earth’s atmosphere, and in so doing paved the way for aerobic-based life to emerge and diversify; cyanobacteria’s contributions to life led to their own prodigious decline.
Stromatolites and their close cousins the thrombolites, are rock-like buildups of microbial mats that form in limestone- or dolostone-forming environments. Together with oncoids (formerly called “algal biscuits” or “Girvanella”), they typically form by the baffling, trapping, and precipitation of particles by communities of microorganisms such as bacteria and algae. In some cases, they can form inorganically, for example when seawaters are oversaturated with certain chemicals resulting in precipitation. Stromatolites are defined as laminated accretionary structures that have synoptic relief (i.e., they stick up above the seafloor). Stromatolite-building communities include the oldest known fossils, dating back some 3.5 billion years when the environments of Earth were too hostile to support life as we know it today. We can presume that the microbial communities consisted of complex consortia of species with diverse metabolic needs, and that competition for resources and differing motility among them created the intricate structures we observe in these ancient fossils. Microbial communities diversified through time, with eukaryotic organisms eventually joining the mix.
Excluding some exceedingly rare Precambrian fossils such as the Russian White Sea Ediacaran fauna, stromatolites and they’re the only fossils encoding the first 7/8th of the history of life on earth. They encode the role that ancient microorganisms played in the evolution of life on earth and in shaping earth’s environments. The fossil record of stromatolites is astonishingly extensive, spanning some four billion years of geological history with the forming organisms possibly having occupied every conceivable environment that ever existed on earth. Today, stromatolites are nearly extinct in marine environments, living a precarious existence in only a few localities worldwide. Modern stromatolites were first discovered in Shark Bay, Australia in 1956, and throughout western Australia in both marine and non-marine environments. New stromatolite localities have continued to be discovered in various places such as the Bahamas, the Indian Ocean and Yellowstone National Park, to name but a few localities.Fossil Museum Dot Net
Geological Evidence for Past Life on Mars
The subject paper, Rizzo, 2020, is pay-walled. However, Vincenzo Rizzo was a coauthor of a paper published in February 2020, Mars: Algae, Lichens, Fossils, Minerals, Microbial Mats, and Stromatolites in Gale Crater, Joseph et al., 2020. They make a very good case for the morphological similarities of Martian rocks to Earth rocks bearing microbial fossils. Here is an example:
The similarities are striking, but they note that…
The authors were unable to precisely determine if these specimens are biological or consist of Martian minerals and salt formations that mimic biology. Therefore, a review of Martian min-erals and mineralization was conducted and the possibility these formations may be abiogenic is discussed. It is concluded that the overall pattern of evidence is mutually related and that specimens resembling algae-like and other organisms may have colonized the Gale Crater, beginning billions of years ago. That some or most of these specimens may be abiotic, cannot be ruled out. Additional investigation targeting features similar to these should be a priority of future studies devoted to the search for current and past life on Mars.
(1) (PDF) Mars: Algae, Lichens, Fossils, Minerals, Microbial Mats, and Stromatolites in Gale Crater. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339777176_Mars_Algae_Lichens_Fossils_Minerals_Microbial_Mats_and_Stromatolites_in_Gale_Crater [accessed Apr 15 2020].Joseph et al., 2020
Fascinating stuff, but we won’t know for sure until we do this sort of thing on Mars…
Even then, we may not know for sure.
Pluto and the Genesis Rock
By JOSH GELERNTER
July 31, 2015
By 1965, NASA had 28 astronauts, all military or ex-military pilots. In a nod to science — which American scientists felt NASA was neglecting — it hired six more astronauts: three physicists, two MDs, and a geologist. The geologist was Harrison Schmitt. National Review readers may recognize the name — from 1977 to 1983, Schmitt was a Republican senator from New Mexico.
But long before he went into politics, he was NASA’s only geologist-astronaut. Geology was part of every astronaut’s training, but only in an uninspiring, perfunctory way. Schmitt knew it would be absurd for astronauts to arrive on the Moon and not understand what they were looking at. The lunar astronauts needed to take geology seriously; what they needed, Schmitt decided, was a really good teacher.
Schmitt picked out Leon Silver, a prominent CalTech geologist with whom Schmitt had studied as an undergrad. Silver was the sort of magnetic teacher each of us fondly remembers having had at one time or another; Schmitt thought he was just the man who could suck the pilot-astronauts into a world of stones and dirt.
Silver’s geology field trips became standard. The astronauts who went to the Moon knew they weren’t just looking for rocks, they were looking for clues to the Moon’s history and, by extension, the history of the Earth, of the solar system, and of all creation. They would keep their eyes open for collapsed lava tubes and dead volcanoes. They would examine impact craters of the sort that vanish on the geologically active Earth, but are preserved forever on the geologically dead Moon. They weren’t just looking for rocks — they were looking for specific minerals that could settle arguments about the Moon’s birth. Silver told them to keep their eyes open for anorthosite, distinguished by telltale white plagioclase crystals. Anorthosite, said Silver, would probably be scarce on the Moon — but it was what many geologists suspected the Moon’s original crust had been made of. Finding a piece of it would be a triumph for the Apollo missions, and for science.
And Silver was in Mission Control when one of his best students, astronaut Dave Scott, radioed to Houston: “Oh man! Guess what we just found! Guess what we just found! I think we found what we came for!”
What he’d found was the piece of anorthosite that’s now known as the “Genesis Rock.” The solar system is 4.5 billion years old; the Genesis Rock is just 100 million years younger. Planetary science had been revolutionized.
(In fact, 45 years later, the Genesis Rock is still making waves. In 2013, researchers at the University of Michigan discovered it contained traces of water, casting doubt on the dominant theories of the Moon’s formation.)
Science is never “settled”… When it settles, it gets boring.
Joseph, Rhawn & Graham, L & Büdel, Burkhard & Jung, Patrick & Kidron, Giora & Latif, Khalid & Armstrong, R & Harb, Hoda & Ray, Joseph George & Ramos, Geraldo & Consorti, Lorenzo & Rizzo, Vincenzo & Gibson, C & Schild, Rudolph. (2020). “Mars: Algae, Lichens, Fossils, Minerals, Microbial Mats, and Stromatolites in Gale Crater”. Journal of Astrobiology and Space Science Reviews 3. 40-111. 10.37720/jassr.03082020.
Rizzo, Vincenzo. (2020). “Why should geological criteria used on Earth not be valid also for Mars? Evidence of possible microbialites and algae in extinct Martian lakes”. International Journal of Astrobiology. 1-12. 10.1017/S1473550420000026.
Day 29 of America Held Hostage by ChiCom-19
At noon yesterday, Dallas County reported 10 fatalities in a single day…
Dallas County Health and Human Services is reporting 89 additional positive cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the total case count in Dallas County to 1,877. Ten additional deaths are being reported, including:
*A man in his 60’s who was a resident of a long-term care facility in the city of Dallas and had been critically ill in an area hospital.2019 Novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19)
*A man in his 70’s who was a resident of a long-term care facility in the city of Dallas and had been hospitalized in an area hospital.
*A man in his 80’s who was a resident of a long-term care facility in the city of Dallas and had been hospitalized in an area hospital.
*A woman in her 50’s who was a resident of a long-term care facility in the city of Dallas.
*A woman in her 90’s who was a resident of a long-term care facility in the city of Dallas.
*A man in his 50’s who was a resident of the city of Dallas and had been critically ill in an area hospital.
*A man in his 50’s who was a resident of the city of Dallas and had been critically ill in an area hospital.
*A man in his 30’s who was a resident of the city of Garland and had been critically ill in an area hospital.
*A woman in her 80’s who was a resident of the city of Mesquite and had been hospitalized in an area hospital.
*A man in his 80’s who was a resident of the city of DeSoto and had been found deceased at home.
I could make a very insensitive remark, but I won’t. In the meantime, we all remain under “house arrest” thanks to Fire Marshal Gump.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says Dallas is ‘in the middle’ of its coronavirus fight
As Dallas County announced its highest one-day COVID-19 death toll, Judge Clay Jenkins said the peak is projected for the end of April or early May.
Author: Teresa Woodard
Published: 6:11 PM CDT April 14, 2020
DALLAS — Three weeks to the day after Dallas County’s stay-at-home order went into effect, the county announced 10 COVID-19 related deaths, its highest one-day total.
The victims range from a man in his 30s to a woman in her 90s.
Five of them lived at Brentwood Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation facilities in the city of Dallas.
“Today is somber news,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins in a Tuesday afternoon news conference. “We lost 10 people today.”
“We are looking at a peak now that is either the end of this month, or maybe the beginning of next month,” he said. “I can’t stress how important it is that you don’t let up now.”
[…]WFAA 8 ABC
Hey Gump! Look at your own fracking data!
Yesterday’s totals pushed the Mendoza Line crossing out to March 14, 2035…
|% of population with||0.07%||0.00%|
|% with, rounded||0.1%||0.0%|
|% without, rounded||99.9%||100%|
|Menodoza Line (.200)||3/14/2035||0.200|
Thankfully, the public’s patience with this “free trial” of socialism and the Fire Marshal Gump types is wearing thin.
Protesters against stay-at-home order block Lansing streets in ‘Operation Gridlock’
by Newschannel 3 Wednesday, April 15th 2020
LANSING, Mich. — On Wednesday, the Michigan Conservative Coalition protested Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order during a noon rally.
In a Facebook event, the promoted the protest as Operation Gridlock, encouraging protesters to drive their cars to Lansing, creating a traffic jam in the city.
“Everyone, every citizen, every business owner needs to get out of their house, out of their chair and get in their car, or truck, or anything that is legal to drive on taxpayer funded roads,” the Facebook event said. “Then drive to Lansing to circle the Michigan Capitol Building at 100 N. Capitol Avenue at noon on April 15.”
How about some classic music?