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And I woke to a deafening silence…

Maybe I dreamed it all.

Maybe I just imagined it happened. Maybe I fell, banged my head on the pavement, and had concussion that sent me a bit doolally or something. But honestly, I could have sworn that yesterday  NASA put out a press release, confirming that a team of scientists had conducted new studies of a meteorite, from Mars, and were now more convinced than ever that it contains evidence of past life on Mars.

But that can’t be right, because surely if that HAD happened, when I got up this morning and logged on, and turned on the TV news,  the story would have been everywhere, right? I mean, it would be big news, BIG news, right? Surely the news that the team of scientists that first sensationally claimed to have found evidence of life in martian meteorite ALH84001 thirteen years ago (Remember that? A grinning from ear to ear President Clinton announced it to the world from the White House? There was a big NASA press conference? Flashbulbs were popping like supernovae? The world’s media was in meltdown? It wasn’t just me, you do remember that, right?) had been working hard to prove their claims, and to counter the many fierce and vehement arguments put up against those claims, and were now confident that their studies of “The rock from Mars” – with new, cutting edge technology and techniques – not available until now were much more indicative of past microbial life on Mars would have been “out there” by now? Surely, if I hadn’t just imagined it all in my own little Mars-fascinated head, it would be The Hot Topic amongst all my spacey friends on Twitter and Facebook and elsewhere?

In fact, if I hadn’t read the NASA press release for myself, and downloaded the three .pdf files linked to from the NASA website the press release directed readers to, and read them several times, I might easily think that it was all just something I made up because I wanted it so badly.

But no, it really DID happen. The sheaf of papers on my desk here, and the docs stored in my “ALH New News” folder in my computer confirm that yesterday NASA put out a press release telling the world that the team of scientists studying ALH84001 are now more convinced than ever that they have, in fact, found evidence of past life on Mars.

Those pdfs I downloaded make fascinating reading, and there’s a really defiant tone running through them. The “ALH team” have been – academically and intelectually, not literally – shot at for the past 13 years, ever since they made their initial claims. Their critics argued that the structures they had found in ALH84001 were too small to be bacteria; their methods were wrong; their science was wrong, etcd etc. The new papers go through these objections one by one and effectively discount them, not without a faint trace of “Ner ner ner ner ner!” I thought.

The papers are illustrated with stunning new images – not just of ALH84001, but of structures found within OTHER martian meteorites, suggesting, the team claims, that bacteria have been found in THOSE martian rocks, too.

The new buzzword for ALH84001 fans and followers is “biomorph”. What’s a biomorph? Well, the team explains: Biomorphs are physical features and textures that resemble features known to be biogenic from terrestrial environments. Biomorphs are not proof of a biological origin, but can serve as pointers for further investigation such as chemistry, isotopic characterization, and mineralogy.”

And the team reckon they’ve found these biomorphs not just in ALH, but in other Mars meteorites too: Other Martian meteorites recovered from quite different terrestrial environments contain nearly identical biomorphs suggestive of fossilized bacteria from Mars.”

That last line there is sitting on the fence a little, but elsewhere the team make some bold, direct, unequivocal statements which I honestly thought would have made into banner headlines all across the world today. Take a look at this pic – click on it to bring up the full size version:

Did you just read that last line? “We interpret this biomorph as the remains of a martian microbe.” Not ‘this might be’, or ‘hmmm, maybe suggestive of…” but “We interpret this biomorph as the remains of a martian microbe.” They’re saying “Look! This used to be alive! This shows there was life on Mars!”

Why isn’t this everywhere? Why isn’t this story on all the space news websites I check every day? Why isn’t my email box full of “Woo hoo! Great news!” emails from my space pals? I don’t understand…

Look at this picture…

That’s the inside of ALH, and the team are saying that the long filament there looks very similar to structures found on Earth, but couldn’t be FROM Earth (i.e. contamination) because it’s part of the structure of the meteorite itself, it was already there before the meteorite landed in Antarctica. That’s FASCINATING! That would have Mr Spock’s eyebrow shooting up as he peered into his tricorder!

Maybe I’m asleep. Maybe I’m dreaming all this. Or maybe I had my very own Flash Forward, and this hasn’t actually happened yet, because surely if it had happened I wouldn’t be the only one excited by this..?

I’m not stupid, I know that the team haven’t said “We’ve found life on Mars!” and there’s a lot more work to do – mostly on Mars itself – before anyone can claim that. And even if this is all just pie in the sky, even if there are still arguments against these claims, even if it is all just wishful thinking, why haven’t the media picked this up? Are they so apathetic about space-related stories, and about science, that this just isn’t important or interesting to them? 

I wasn’t expecting sirens to go off in the street yesterday, or a huge NASA symbol to appear in the sky like the Bat signal, or even for TV stations to break into their programming with a “Breaking News!” report. But I did think that this would make some kind of media splash, even if it was only along the lines of cynical “Here we go again, boffins claim to have found bugs on Mars. But we didn’t believe them last time, so why should we this time?” stories. That would actually be a good thing – these claims deserve to be challenged, and I’m sure the team behind them don’t just expect some negative reaction but are looking forward to it, because scientists like nothing better than an opportunity to defend their theories and work against attack by their peers!

Instead, here I sit, a day later, eating my first mince pie of the festive period (finally given in, as it’s December 1st today so Christmas is officially on the horizon and I think it’s acceptable to eat mince pies now. Yes, I know I’ve been feasting on Greggs’ yummy ‘Festive Bakes’ for the past 2 weeks, but they don’t count… 😉 ) and no-one’s talking about it. I honestly feel like when I was out shopping earlier this morning I heard someone shouting that they had just spotted snow-covered fir trees and Mr Tumnuss’ fawn hoofprints through the door of  WH Smiths, but no-one else did. It’s just bizarre.

Honestly. Baffled. 😦

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9 Responses

  1. I know exactly how you feel. We rarely, in fact never, depart from our lunar niche at Lunar Pioneer. Nothing personal about Mars, just don’t like duplication of effort. The Moon is what we do, along with a few others.

    But we did last night.

    We’re encountering this more and more, and we don’t believe it’s the story. We think it’s indicative of a marketing crisis, a fragmentation of media that will eventually settle out. The answers are brute force and repetition, though simple persistence of message will do. It will get out there eventually.

    I have found myself mumbling “biomorph” to myself, now and again.

  2. Perhaps the dreaded Main Stream Media are not so bad after all: Enough editors seem to recall how the sensation from 1996 – yes, I was blown away at first, too – evaporated bit by bit in front of our eyes. So when now the same(!) scientists are at it again, with evidence that sounds like much the same (disclaimer: I haven’t read the two papers in detail yet), healthy skepticism seems to be a very proper reaction. And indeed, regarding the ALH 84001 magnetite issue, there are already the first opposing views out there …

  3. […] Posted in Comment by wolfeii on December 1, 2009 Stuart over at Cumbrian Sky has posted about the lack of reportage following the initial burst of ALH84001 headlines last week. It’s an interesting piece, and illustrates well why I think it’s right to be […]

  4. Over at the Martian Chronicles there is an excellent assessment of the state of things: “Right now I think the evidence is not extraordinary, but it may be getting there.”

  5. You are totally right. When we were following up on the meteorite news, I heard crickets… it was as if we had a secret no one was privy to. Even though we had to wait for a couple of days to get the story, we still seemed to have the scoop… none of the mainstream press were reporting it.

    http://news.discovery.com/space/mars-meteorite-life-magnetites.html

    We assumed that everyone was too distracted with Thanksgiving to give a hoot about a martian meteorite… but you’d think it would cause a little stir, right?

  6. A link to the press release would be nice. A link to the original scientific papers would be even nicer…

  7. […] (Papers & Bilder; JSC Release, NASA Watch, Discovery [mit ersten Magnetit-Zweifeln] 30.11., Cumbrian Sky, Martian Chronicles [bester Kommentar bisher] […]

  8. hi,

    The story has appeared only in the Johnson Centre Press release space on the NASA website: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/home/mars_meteorite.html

    This has not been carried by none of the other NASA websites that I regularily check. I think NASA Watch has also commented on this point. I wonder why that is. Are they waiting for more conclusive evidence?

    Pradeep

  9. this is really exciting,they are more concerned about tiger woods lol

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