Season 4

S4E2- Tracie Austin Peters

On hosting the First Annual 2012 Women’s UFO Symposium

April 21, 2012

SHOW NOTES


Fleet of orb UFOs recorded over Las Vegas

http://www.openminds.tv/fleet-of-orb-ufos-recorded-over-las-vegas-915/


Jason McClellan | Apr 02, 2012



Mysterious orb UFOs over Las Vegas. (Credit: UFOzAreVeryREAL/YouTube)

An interesting video was recently brought to my attention by my good friend and Huffington Post journalist Lee Speigel. The video, recorded by a tourist from Ohio, shows a mass of small orb UFOs above Las Vegas on the night of Wednesday March 21. Coincidentally, Speigel and I were in Las Vegas on the night of March 21. Had we been outside, rather than enjoying the buffet at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino, we might have witnessed the UFO event firsthand.


The video shows approximately 7.5 minutes of mysterious illuminated orbs swirling in, and around, the Luxor Sky Beam above the Luxor Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Sun describes, “Several bright spots of light can be seen rotating in a fixed pattern high above the Strip near the Luxor’s famous beam of light.”

The exact time of the event is unknown. However, a hint is given in the video when the witnesses remark about how they are close to being late to a performance by comedian George Wallace, who performs at the Flamingo Showroom. According to the Flamingo website, Wallace performs at 10:00 PM. Therefore, the sighting likely took place just prior to 10:00 PM.


The witness uploaded his video to his YouTube channel–UFOzAreVeryREAL. The Las Vegas video is currently the only video on this channel that was seemingly created to showcase this video. In the description that accompanies this video, the witness stated, “The event I captured in this video changed my life forever.”

But not everyone is convinced that the objects in the video merit such awe. Some suggest the objects in the video are simply bats flying around, and into, the bright beam of light. A YouTube user named ghechy69 commented, “Dude . . . I work at Mandalay Bay which is right next door to the Luxor . . . They are bats and birds that eat the bugs that are attracted to the bright light of the beam coming from the Luxor . . . [It] happens almost every night in the spring and summer and I have seen it ever since the light has been on . . . It is not a ufo!!!”

The Las Vegas Sun reports that two other videos posted by separate people were uploaded to YouTube on March 22, possibly showing the same event, but from different angles.


The objects in the video are only visible when illuminated by the powerful light beam from the Luxor. This, paired with the gliding motion of the objects, makes the bat/bird theory plausible. But with the limited detail provided by the video evidence, a positive identification cannot be made.

What do you think about these mysterious orbs above Las Vegas? Are they something extraterrestrial in origin, or perhaps just bats feasting on the buffet of bugs in, and around, the bright Luxor Sky Beam? Share your thoughts with us on the Open Minds Facebook page.




Is this a picture of UFOs shooting laser beams at an airplane?

http://io9.com/5893017/is-this-a-picture-of-ufos-shooting-laser-beams-at-an-airplane

By Annalee Newitz


Mar 13, 2012 2:09 PM



The UFO world has been buzzing about this picture, which the photographer says is an image of a UFO that flew close to a flight from England to Cyprus last month. Though the UFO report filed with MUFON promises video, I have yet to see any. We're left wondering what the heck we're seeing here — reflections in the airplane window or LASERS? Probably lasers. That's why they call it Occam's Laser, right?

Here's the full report from MUFON:

2-15-12 FLIGHT FROM ENGLAND TO CYPRUS

We where on a flight from the UK to the Island of Cyprus. The event happened more then half way through the flight and we took pictures and videos. I was filming the view from the plane when I heard people talk about the object behind me. I had no idea what it could have been when I first saw it. The object flew fast next to the plane then slowed its speed to match the plane. Two beams emerged from the object that seemed to be scanning the plane (evident in picture) then the object suddenly changed direction in a very fast speed. When I first saw the object I was scared as I didn't know what it was. The whole plane of approximately 100 people saw the objects and started to panic. The captain then asked everyone to fasten their seat belts and not to panic. We lost sight of the object when it flew away in a speed much faster then our plane. There are more pictures and a short video I just didnt get a chance to load them to the PC.



A UFO emerges from the smog over Beijing

http://io9.com/5899301/a-ufo-emerges-from-the-smog-over-shanghai?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_twitter&utm_source=io9_twitter&utm_medium=socialflow


By Annalee Newitz


Apr 5, 2012 1:35 PM






UFOlogists are buzzing about this recent camera phone shot from Beijing, which shows an old-school flying saucer appearing to emerge from the smoggy skies over the ultra-modern metropolis. I don't really care if it's real or not — I just want to see the movie where this happens.



Full size


According to The Canadian, the photographer said:


This UFO was in Beijing CBD Jingxian. Today I shot it in the morning from the CTS overpass. I was too interested in the traffic and the main road, when I pushed the shutter I actually had a UFO!

I could not actually find any links to this quote from a Chinese source. Let's just call it today's best UFO image and leave it at that.

via The Canadian


Could There Be Life In Them Thar Pits?

http://www.universetoday.com/94451/could-there-be-life-in-them-thar-pits/

by Jason Major on April 5, 2012



Computer-generated perspective of the Tractus Catena pit chains. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Recent images from ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft reveal long rows of crater-like depressions lining the flanks of ancient Martian volcanoes located in the planet’s vast Tharsis region. Rather than being the result of impact events, these “pit chains” were likely caused by underground lava flows — and could be a prime location for look for life.


Like similar features found on Earth, lava tubes on Mars are the result of rivers of magma that carved channels beneath the surface. When these channels empty out, a hollow tube is left. If the roof of a particularly large tube is near the surface the roof can eventually collapse, creating a surface depression… or, in some cases, opening up to the surface entirely.

Even though volcanism on Mars isn’t currently active — the last eruptions probably took place at least over a million years ago — the features left by volcanic activity are still very much present today and likely well-preserved beneath the Martian surface.

Shielded from harsh solar and cosmic radiation, the interior of such lava tubes could provide a safe haven for microbial life — especially if groundwater had found its way inside at some point.

Even though the surface of Mars can receive 250 times the radiation levels found on Earth, the layers of soil and rock surrounding the tubes can provide adequate protection for life, whether it be ancient Martian microbes or future explorers from Earth.



A wider image of the Tractus Catena region showing the large shield volcano Ascraeus Mons. Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Of course, water and protection from radiation aren’t the only factors necessary for life. There also needs to be some source of heat. Fortunately, the pit chains imaged by Mars Express happen to be within one of the most volcano-laden areas of the Red Planet, a region called the Arcadia quadrangle. Within this area exist some of the largest volcanoes on Mars — and the Tractus Catena pits are located right in the middle of them.

If a heat source were ever to have been beneath the surface of Mars, there would be a good chance it would have been here.

And if our own planet is any measure of such things, where there’s heat and water there is often some form of life — however extreme the conditions may be.


“I’d like to see us land ON a volcano,” Dr. Tracy Gregg, a volcanologist with the University of Buffalo, had once told Universe Today back in 2004. “Right on the flanks. Often the best place to look for evidence of life on any planet is near volcanoes.”

“That may sound counterintuitive, but think about Yellowstone National Park , which really is nothing but a huge volcano,” Gregg elaborated. “Even when the weather in Wyoming is 20 below zero, all the geysers, which are fed by volcanic heat, are swarming with bacteria and all kinds of happy little things cruising around in the water. So, since we think that the necessary ingredients for life on Earth were water and heat, we are looking for the same things on Mars.”

As far as any remaining geothermal activity still happening beneath the Martian surface?

“I strongly suspect there are still molten (or at least mushy) magma bodies beneath the huge Tharsis volcanoes,” Gregg had said. (Read the full article here.)

On Earth, lava tubes, caves and underground spaces of all kinds harbor life, often specialized forms that are found no place else. Could this be (or have once been) the case on Mars as well? Only future exploration will tell. Until then, places like Tractus Catena will remain on scientists’ short list of places to look.

Read more on the ESA website here.




UFO reports in the newsroom

http://lmtribune.com/blogs/cultured/article_de8911b4-7f88-11e1-9d9b-001a4bcf6878.html

Posted: Thursday, April 5, 2012 6:36 pm | Updated: 7:04 pm, Thu Apr 5, 2012.

Jennifer K. Bauer




A vintage UFO photo taken in McMinnville, Oregon in the 1950s.




Posted: Thursday, April 5, 2012 6:36 pm | Updated: 7:04 pm, Thu Apr 5, 2012.

Jennifer K. Bauer | 0 comments

UFO researcher Robert Hastings, featured in today's AE story, is used to people scoffing at what he has to say - which is that UFOs are messing around with our nuclear weapons and we are powerless to do anything about it.

But during the interview he pointed that Gallup polls show a growing number of Americans believe UFOs. In the 1960s the percentage of believers was in the teens.

"Now, since about 1980, it's leveled at plus or minus 50 percent. Half of all Americans believe this is real," said Hastings who has talked about his work on CNN and Larry King Live.

Why don't people talk about it more then, especially if they've seen one? I asked.

He said that usually if someone sees a UFO they tell someone close to them, a spouse or friend, and that person often laughs in their face. After that they don't tell anybody else, until they come into contact with someone like him.

We had a rash of UFO reports coming in to the newsroom last summer. I saw a few of the objects people were talking about. They looked like campfires burning in the sky. These particular UFOs turned out to be flying luminaries, candles in floating lanterns that would travel for miles in the night sky after being released.

Do you believe UFOs exist? Have you see something unexplainable in the sky?


Getting to Know the Goldilocks Planet

Source: science@NASA


http://www.astrobio.net/pressrelease/4679/getting-to-know-the-goldilocks-planet-









New Planets

Posted:   04/06/12


Summary: Kepler has revealed an astounding variety of planets around distant stars. How long will it be before we identify a 'Goldilocks planet' - a truly Earth-like world orbiting its star at the right distance for liquid water and life.



An artist's rendition of the Kepler spacecraft as it searches distant stars for planets. Credit: NASA/Kepler mission/Wendy Stenzel

NASA's Kepler spacecraft is discovering a veritable avalanche of alien worlds. Recent finds include planets with double suns, massive "super-Earths" and "hot Jupiters," and a miniature solar system. The variety of planets circling distant suns is as wonderful as it is surprising.


As the numbers mount, it seems to be just a matter of time before Kepler finds what astronomers are really looking for: an Earth-like planet orbiting its star in the "Goldilocks zone"—that is, at just the right distance for liquid water and life.


"I believe Kepler will find a 'Goldilocks planet' within the next two years," says Shawn Domagal-Goldman, a researcher at NASA HQ who specializes in exoplanet biology. "We'll be able to point at a specific star in the night sky and say 'There it is—a planet that could support life!'"


Kepler has already located a few Earth-sized planets, but they are too close for comfort to their parent stars. These recent finds have heightened the sense that a big discovery is just around the corner.


But finding a Goldilocks planet is just the first step. Getting to know it is much more difficult.


The problem is that, in the cosmic scheme of things, Earth-sized planets are relatively small, and the ones Kepler is finding are staggeringly far away. Most are hundreds, or even thousands, of light years away from Earth. Almost completely hidden by the glare of their parent stars, these distant pinpricks are very difficult to study.



An artist's concept of the Fast INfrared Exoplanet Spectroscopy Survey Explorer (FINESSE), a proposed mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Fortunately, NASA has a plan.


"The reflected light of an exoplanet tells its story," explains Kepler Program Scientist Doug Hudgins, also at NASA HQ. "To get at that story and learn about the planet's atmosphere and composition, we can use a technique called transit spectroscopy."


The basic idea is simple: When a planet reflects the light of its parent star, the atmosphere of the planet leaves a subtle imprint on the reflection--a sort of spectral "fingerprint" that astronomers can study to learn what the planet's atmosphere is made of.


One new mission under consideration by NASA, named FINESSE, is a fingerprint specialist. Short for "Fast INfrared Exoplanet Spectroscopy Survey Explorer," FINESSE would measure the spectra of stars and their planets in two situations: once when the planet is in view, and again when the planet is hiding out behind its star. In this way, FINESSE can separate the planet's dim light from the stellar glare and reveal the composition of the planet's atmosphere.



An artist's representation of the proposed TESS satellite, which would be used to view distant planets. A planet is transiting a star in the background. Credit: TESS Team / MIT

NASA is also considering an observatory named "TESS"--the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. Supported in part by Google, the MIT-led mission is specifically designed to find exoplanets in the local galactic neighborhood. TESS would study hundreds of stars within 50 light years of Earth, close enough to study in some detail.


"With better detectors and instruments designed to block the glare of the parent stars, these next-generation telescopes could not only find a Goldilocks planet, but also tell us what its atmosphere is made of, what sort of cloud cover graces its skies, and maybe even what the surface is like—whether oceans cover part of the globe, how much land there is, and so on," says Hudgins.


Domagal-Goldman expects big surprises: "We've found so many unexpected things about planets that now I expect to be amazed. When we can study a Goldilocks planet, I believe we'll discover something revolutionary about how life interacts with a planetary environment. Nature is so much more diverse than we anticipated."


"The possibilities," he believes, "are limitless."



New app brings users alien planets

http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2012/04/04/New-app-brings-users-alien-planets/UPI-92391333574865/


Published: April 4, 2012 at 5:27 PM








Screenshot of the Kepler Explorer app. Credit: University of California, Santa Cruz 


SANTA CRUZ, Calif., April 4 (UPI) -- A new app for iPhones and iPads allows users to interactively view information on thousands of alien planets discovered in a cosmic survey, its developers say.

Developed at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the free Kepler Explorer app lets users study displays of the 2,300 alien planet candidates detected to date by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope.

Kepler Explorer displays data on nearly 1,800 Kepler-discovered planetary systems plus our own solar system, SPACE.com reported Wednesday.

Users can select a system and are then presented a view of the planet or planets in orbit around their host star, and can click on an individual planet for information about it.

"I have pretty good intuition for what the likely composition of a planet is based on its size, but the app allows anyone to explore the properties of many different planets very quickly," said UCSC astrophysicist Jonathan Fortney, a Kepler mission scientist who helped develop the app with UCSC astronomers, artists and designers.

The Kepler Explorer app will be automatically updated to add planet candidates as they are discovered, its developers said.


Read more: http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2012/04/04/New-app-brings-users-alien-planets/UPI-92391333574865/#ixzz1rVVVRGSm



Katy Perry is fascinated with aliens

http://www.azcentral.com/ent/celeb/articles/2012/04/11/20120411katy-perry-fascinated-aliens.html

1 comment Apr. 11, 2012 01:07 AM
Bang Showbiz


Katy Perry is obsessed with aliens.

The 'E.T' singer - whose divorce from Russell Brand will be finalized in July - has developed an interest in other-worldly beings and wants to look beyond the Christian teachings imposed upon her by her pastor parents Keith and Mary Hudson during her childhood.

She said: ''I'm fascinated by that kind of stuff because of how I grew up, where everything was so black and white.

''Now I'm seeing a lot more color in the world and asking more questions. So I'm very into things that are above and beyond me and were before me and will be after me.''

Katy's interest was sparked by the U.S. show 'Ancient Aliens' - which examines the possibility that the Earth was visited by extraterrestrial beings thousands of years ago - and she loves the program so much, she tries to make everyone she knows watch it. She admitted to The Sun newspaper: ''I've ordered 50 of those DVDs.

''I sent out a Christmas gift basket to people filled with my favorite things and the first season of 'Ancient Aliens' was one of the things I included.

''It's so good. I made everyone on my tour watch it. I'm just obsessed.''

The 27-year-old beauty is confident aliens will one day visit Earth - but she hopes they won't want to conduct experiments on her because she previously wrote a song about them.

She said: ''I do hope that when the aliens come, they'll recognize me. I'll be like, 'Please don't kill me, I wrote a song called E.T.'.''

While Katy credits watching a DVD for her interest in aliens, she has previously admitted she shared the fascination with Russell and the couple were looking forward to taking a trip on the first-ever commercial space flight, Virgin Galactic, when it eventually launches.

She previously said: ''I'm so into extraterrestrial stuff. It's very difficult for me to look up into the sky in the middle of the night and not think that our planet is one of ... a bajillion. It's really, really small.

''And Russell and I are interested in anything extraterrestrial. I mean, we're going to space! We're really excited.''


Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/ent/celeb/articles/2012/04/11/20120411katy-perry-fascinated-aliens.html#ixzz1sAL1TtTb



UFO mystery: Latest sighting in Siberia

http://rt.com/news/siberia-ufo-fall-meteorite-958/

email story to a friend print version

Published: 13 April, 2012, 13:25



An image from Russia's "Vesti" Channel

TAGS: Space, Russia, Blast


An unidentified glowing object is said to have crashed down from the skies in Russia’s Siberia, causing a powerful explosion. A search for the mysterious item is underway amid speculations of what on Earth it could be.

­Witnesses describe seeing a bright glow covering the sky, followed by a shining object falling with a strange clanging sound and disappearing in the distance with a blast.

­The unidentified object supposedly fell in the taiga forest of the Irkutsk region, 15 kilometers from the nearest village of Vitim, on Friday night. The head of the regional administration said a group of researchers has been sent to inspect the area and question witnesses.

“We will be able to say what it is, only when we see the thing itself and the place where it fell,” explained head of the region Aleksandr Sergey. “The investigators, together with hunters are going there on snowmobiles”.

There are two possible causes of the incident being examined. The object could either be a part of a large meteorite, or satellite wreckage. Speculations that it could be a piece of the failed, recently launched North Korean carrier rocket have been dismissed. Neither could it be a piece of any other aircraft as there have been no flights in the area.

The director of the astronomical observatory at Irkutsk University however explained that the searches won’t find any traces if it was a meteorite. 

“Usually such objects completely disintegrate – they burn down in the atmosphere and split into very small fragments upon falling,”he said.



Map of Russia, showing the Irkutsk region where the unidentified flying object fell

­This is not the first incident of this kind in the area.

The best-known case, the Vitim bolide, fell in this very area in 2002 causing a powerful explosion. Detected by a US military missile-defense satellite, the event recalled the massive Tunguska blast of 1908, caused by a large falling meteorite.

This March, a mysterious cylinder fell in another part of Siberia, causing widespread speculation as to what it was. While media supposed it was part of a satellite or a fragment of a ballistic missile, the Russian Federal Space Agency denied ownership of the object.


Space ball: UFO shocks Brazilians (VIDEO, PHOTOS)

http://rt.com/news/sphere-ufo-space-brazil-103/


Published: 24 February, 2012, 14:43
Edited: 25 February, 2012, 11:17

Photo: Lelé Vamos, Mr Notícias / Video: Wandson Arouche, MR TV

(22.6Mb) embed video

TAGS: Space, South America, SciTech, Accident


An unidentified metal sphere has plunged from the sky on unsuspecting villagers in northern Brazil, causing an uproar. According to eyewitnesses, the UFO weighs about 50 kilograms and measures roughly one meter in diameter.

The sphere fell on Wednesday in a village of Riacho dos Poços in Brazilian Maranhão state. No casualties were reported apart from an unfortunate cashew tree that was severed by the object as it plunged to the ground, according to MR Notícias, a Mata Roma news site.

Valdir José Mendes, 46, told police the sphere landed several meters from his house leaving a one-meter-deep hole in the yard.

"I heard the noise and I went out to see what caused it. I thought it was a plane that had fallen, or an earthquake," he said.

The noise was such that Mendes was too scared to go outside. However, curiosity got the better of him and he headed outside to find the cashew tree’s trunk snapped in half by a mysterious metal sphere lying in a hole nearby.

­


Some 20 villagers joined Mendes to help him extract the object from the ground and examine it. Mendes says the sphere is hollow and if shaken some sort of liquid can be felt swishing inside. Locals quickly spread the news, as they reached the town of Mata Roma over 2,000 people flocked to see the “UFO”.

"It was a huge uproar here. Some feared it was the beginning of the 2012 end of the world, others said it was ‘alien’, but I think it is a piece of satellite," said Max Garreto Mauro, 25, a resident of Mata Roma.

Peter Costa, the meteorologist at the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), agrees with Garetto, saying the object would probably be part of a satellite. "I'm sure this is not a weather balloon or part of it," he said as quoted by O Imparcia.

Military police confiscated the sphere and took it to the barracks in the nearby Mata Roma. They have not specified what the UFO’s possible future will be. In a statement the Air Force Command said it "does not have specialized structures to perform scientific research on this type of aerial phenomena, which prevents the institution to submit an opinion on these events."

­


Photo: Lelé Vamos, Mr Notícias


Photo: Lelé Vamos, Mr Notícias

Mind your head!

In December 2011, a similar incident happened in Namibia, where a metal “Teletubby head” weighing 5.9 kilograms and measuring 35 centimeters in diameter hit the ground in the village of Omanatunga. Some Russian specialists believe the “head” was part of the third stage of the Soyuz-U rocket, launched on October 30.

Space debris stories made the headlines throughout 2011. In January, media chased the infamous Russian Mars probe Phobos-Grunt across five oceans to keep up with Russia’s space agency, constantly changing the possible impact location.

Earlier in October, the German Roentgen satellite split into 30 chunks, one of which weighed 400 kilograms, but those globs eventually made their way in to the Indian Ocean.

In September 2011, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite made headlines when it threatened to fall right onto Britain but eventually collapsed into a remote part of the Pacific Ocean.

­Elena Ostroumova, RT

The Gods must be crazy: Metal ‘Teletubby head’ falls near Namibian village

http://rt.com/news/namibia-flying-object-529/


Published: 23 December, 2011, 19:05
Edited: 23 December, 2011, 23:22



Namibia, Desert Region : A handout photo provided by the National Forensic Science Institute shows a giant metallic ball of 1,1 metre in diameter weighing some 6 kilograms that fell out of the sky on a remote grassland in Namibia, prompting baffled authorities to contact NASA and the European space agency (ESA) on December 21, 2011. AFP Photo / National Forensic Science Institute)

TAGS: Space, Africa, SciTech, Accident


Mystery surrounds a 13-pound unidentified flying object which fell from the skies in northern Namibia. Despite efforts by researchers to identify its composition and origins, nobody has been able to establish where the metal sphere came from.

The ball, weighing 13 pounds (5.9 kilograms) and measuring 14 inches (35 centimeters) in diameter hit the ground next to the Namibian village of Omanatunga in the Omunsati region in the north of the country.

Locals reported hearing a series of loud explosions before the sphere was found by a farmer sometime between November 15 and November 20. The metal ball was found some 60 feet (18.3 meters) away from a small crater it is assumed to have created when it fell.  

Ever since, local officials and researchers have been kept busy investigating the origins and make-up of the mysterious ball. Local police chief Vilho Hifindaka was quick to calm everyone down by saying the object did not pose any danger, as it was hollow inside.

The director of the Namibian National Forensic Science Institute, Paul Vidik, said the two sides of the ball appear to be welded together and that the sphere contains a metal alloy used in spaceships. He rejected the idea that it could be an extraterrestrial object and said such findings are commonplace throughout the southern hemisphere – in South America, Africa and Australia.  

Russian specialist Igor Lisov, a columnist for the magazine Novosti Kosmonavtiki (Astronomy News), believes the sphere is part of the third stage of the Russian “Soyuz-U” rocket that carried the transport ship “Progress M-13M” on October 30.

Lisov said the trajectory of the third stage’s fall indicated it was to hit the ground in Namibia on November 1. However he denied that the object could be part of the stranded Phobos-Grunt probe as it has not yet entered Earth’s atmosphere and is not expected to fall to Earth until late January 2012.

The sphere incident isn’t the first space debris story to hit the news this year. In September, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite made headlines when it threatened to fall right onto Britain but eventually collapsed into a remote part of the Pacific Ocean.

In October, the German Roentgen satellite split up into 30 chunks, one of which weighed 880 pounds (400 kilograms), but those globs eventually made their way down to the Indian Ocean.


Russia calls for international effort in manned Mars mission

http://zeenews.india.com/news/space/russia-calls-for-international-effort-in-manned-mars-mission_769867.html


Last Updated: Friday, April 13, 2012, 16:39

Tags: RussiaMars MissionRed planet



New York : The failure of the latest Mars mission made Russia drop its plans to independently research the Red Planet and now the national space agency Roscosmos eyes international effort in the endeavor.


Roscosmos deputy head Sergei Savelyev said yesterday in New York that a manned flight to Mars can be carried out only by joint effort of space powers.


"Such a large-scale mission demands new technologies and means, mostly new engines, efficient protection from radiation and other factors of aggressive space environment.


It is necessary to create a highly efficient life-supporting system and train people for such work," Savelyev said.



The mission will demand time and major investments and "can be accomplished only through international cooperation. Russia is ready to cooperate in the issue with the United States, Europe, and other countries," he said.


Russia's inter-planetary space probe Fobos-Grunt which had to bring to the Earth samples from Mars' satellite, was launched in November 2011 but failed to enter the expected trajectory, and on January 15 its debris splashed into the Pacific Ocean.


After the failure of the Mars mission, which devoured 15 years and nearly five billion rubles, Roscosmos lost much of its enthusiasm about inter-planetary research.


The head of Roscosmos, Vladimir Popovkin, warned against dragging the economy into a "new space race", because the previous one, he said, caused the USSR first to go broke and eventually break up.



Life found on Mars in 1976 by Nasa's Viking probe, claims new study

http://www.metro.co.uk/news/896079-life-found-on-mars-in-1976-by-nasas-viking-probe-claims-new-study

By John McDonnell - 13th April, 2012

New analysis of soil samples taken on Mars in a mission in 1976 has revealed the presence of life, according to a report.


Tests done on the surface on Mars in 1976 may have found evidence of life (Picture: Nasa/Reuters)

Nasa initially believed tests done by one of its Viking probes showed only geological activity, not biological activity - an indication of life.

But an international team of mathematicians and scientists who recently studied the data from the labelled release experiments, from a purely numerical perspective, found that its complexity was a strong indication of microbial life.

One of the Viking probes found that something in the soil on Mars was metabolising nutrients it released - which would indicate microbes - but since other robots dropped on the planet at the same time were unable to find organic molecules in the soil, Nasa believed something non-biological was responsible for the oxidisation of the nutrients.

'On the basis of what we've done so far, I'd say I'm 99 per cent sure there's life there,' said Joseph D. Miller, associate professor of cell and neurobiology at the University of Southern California's Keck School.

'To paraphrase an old saying, "if it looks like a microbe and acts like a microbe, then it probably is a microbe".'

He added: 'We have only one example of life in the universe - we are it.

'Finding another example of life somewhere else could be the biggest step forward in biology since the delineation of the genetic code by Crick and Watson.'


Read more: http://www.metro.co.uk/news/896079-life-found-on-mars-in-1976-by-nasas-viking-probe-claims-new-study#ixzz1sAOmRK5l



NASA to Discuss New Mars Plans Today: How to Listen

http://www.space.com/15262-nasa-mars-exploration-update.html

SPACE.com Staff

Date: 13 April 2012 Time: 09:49 AM ET



An artist's concept of NASA's Curiosity rover searching for interesting samples on the Martian surface.

CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech

View full size image

NASA will hold an audio press conference today (April 13) to update the public and reporters on its work to overhaul future Mars exploration plans in the wake of proposed budget cuts.

The teleconference, which will be webcast live on NASA's website, will begin at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT) and focus on providing an update on the framework and schedule of the agency's new Mars Program Planning Group, or MPPG, agency officials explained in a statement released yesterday.

"The MPPG was established to construct a coordinated strategy and continue America's leadership role in the exploration of Mars within available future budgets," NASA officials stated in an announcement.

Several NASA officials will be on hand to discuss the new Mars exploration strategy. They include:



  1. John Grunsfeld, associate administrator at NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington

  2. Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington

  3. Orlando Figueroa, MPPG team lead

NASA's 2013 budget request, announced in February, included significant cuts to the agency's planetary science and exploration efforts, a drop of more than 20 percent. In all, planetary science would be cut by $309 million, more than a third of that ($130 million) coming from the agency's Mars exploration program.

The proposed budget cuts forced NASA to officially pull out of two European-led ExoMars missions, which would send two spacecraft — a rover and orbiter — to the Red Planet by 2018. Since the budget announcement in February, many scientists and critics have spoken out against the planetary science funding cuts.

Meanwhile, NASA's next major mission to Mars, the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity, recently passed the halfway mark to the Red Planet. The $2.5 billion mission aims to land a massive, 1-ton rover on Mars to determine if the Red Planet can, or ever did, support microbial life.

To listen in on NASA's teleconference on Mars exploration today, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio

Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.


Connecticut trooper, motorist: U.F.O. fell from sky

http://bostonherald.com/news/offbeat/view/20120412connecticut_trooper_motorist_ufo_fell_from_sky


By Associated Press

Thursday, April 12, 2012 - Added 4 days ago


LITCHFIELD, Conn. — Authorities in northwestern Connecticut say they didn’t find anything after a state trooper and another person reported a large object falling out of the sky in Litchfield.

The Republican-American of Waterbury reports that a person driving in Litchfield at about 2 a.m. Tuesday reported that a green, glowing object the size of a whale fell from the sky and crashed into Bantam Lake. Officials say that at about the same time, a state trooper 10 miles away in Warren called dispatchers to report that something fell out of the sky and landed near Bantam or Morris.

Morris fighters made several passes up and down the lake in a boat looking for a possible plane crash, but didn’t find any debris.

Authorities called off the search, leaving the mystery unsolved.

___

Information from: Republican-American, http://www.rep-am.com


Do Intelligent Dinosaurs Really Rule Alien Worlds?

http://news.discovery.com/space/what-if-alien-dinosaurs-did-have-a-space-program-120411.html



Analysis by Ian O'Neill

Wed Apr 11, 2012 04:49 PM ET




"Asteroids have us in our sight. The dinosaurs didn't have a space program, so they're not here to talk about this problem. We are, and we have the power to do something about it." -- Neil DeGrasse Tyson on asteroids, dinosaurs and his new book "Space Chronicles" during an NPR interview.

It sounds like the ultimate science fiction storyline: what if the dinosaurs weren't wiped-out by an asteroid impact 65 million years ago? Perhaps they'd still be alive today, in an advanced evolutionary state, developing their space program and their own asteroid impact mitigation strategies. Sadly for us, this would have probably meant that mammals wouldn't have gotten a foothold and the fledgling human race would have become glorified dino-chum.


WATCH VIDEO: Will the real ET be little green men or little green bacteria?

ANALYSIS: Asteroid Family Not Guilty of Dinosaur Killing

In new research published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the rather outlandish prospect of alien -- not terrestrial -- dinosaur life is explored by Ronald Breslow. And these dino-aliens ("Dinolians"?) didn't have the misfortune of being smacked by an asteroid and/or get snuffed out by a volcanic eruption.

But before we get too carried away with thoughts of pirate Velociraptors flying space shuttles, attacking interplanetary supply ships (too late!), there is actually some scientific reasoning behind this work -- even though the "alien dinosaur" conclusion is a bit "iffy."

All sugars, amino acids, DNA and RNA exist in one of two possible orientations, left-handed or right-handed. This handedness is known as "chirality." The theory is that for life to be possible, proteins must contain only one chiral form of amino acids, left or right, for example. Apart from a few bacteria, the chirality of amino acids of all life on Earth is left-handed.

NEWS: Asteroid Mission May Offer Clues into Life's Origins

One theory of how life was spawned on Earth is through a mechanism known as "panspermia" -- basically, life has the ability to "hop" from one planet to the next encased in the protective shell of meteoroids. If life on Earth was indeed started via a cosmic "seed," then perhaps life evolved elsewhere in a similar manner as it did on our planet. Perhaps life even evolved with a different chirality than Earth.

"Such life forms could well be advanced versions of dinosaurs, if mammals did not have the good fortune to have the dinosaurs wiped out by an asteroidal collision, as on Earth," Breslow speculates. "We would be better off not meeting them."

But this conjecture makes Dinosaur Tracking's Brian Switek's "brain ache" -- why Breslow is speculating about advanced alien dinosaurs doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

"Our planet's fossil record has intricately detailed the fact that evolution is not a linear march of progress from one predestined waypoint to another," says Switek. "Dinosaurs were never destined to be. The history of life on earth has been greatly influenced by chance and contingency, and dinosaurs are a perfect example of this fact."

NEWS: Could Ancient Aliens Live on Methuselah Planets?

In other words, there's no reason to think dinosaurs are an inevitable consequence of the evolution of life. It just so happened that life on Earth produced dinosaurs, but they aren't the only examples of life and life doesn't have to go through a "dinosaur phase" before it can move onto the next evolutionary step.

So, although there may well be alien equivalents of T. rex's elsewhere in the galaxy struggling to steer spaceships with their tiny arms (an evolutionary attribute that may have snuffed-out that particular dinosaur species anyway), this is just as fanciful as any other science fiction alien.

Sources: ACS, Dinosaur Tracking

Image credit: CORBIS





Lights and shadows: Why do we see elephants on Mars?


http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/04/2012414123942111212.html



Ian O'Neill

Ian O'Neill is the Space Science Producer at Discovery News, and founder and editor of Astroengine.


Those claiming that shapes found on Mars are 'artificial' are merely suffering from pareidolia.




Is that a parrot? Or just a hill? [NASA]

Los Angeles, CA - On April 4, a curious photograph was published on the University of Arizona's High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) website. The HiRISE camera, attached to the NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) that is currently in orbit around the Red Planet, regularly beams back incredibly detailed snapshots of the Martian plains, mountains and valleys. Often, though, the HiRISE survey will turn up a real Martian oddity that kick-starts the imagination and drives speculation (plus inevitable conspiracy theories) across the internet.

This time, HiRISE spotted an elephant on Mars' surface.

Yes, an elephant.

Of course we're not talking about a real elephant; HiRISE scientists had simply spotted a shape on a Martian plain resembling the head, trunk and mouth - plus a strategically placed "eye". Seeing a clever opportunity to teach some Mars geology, HiRISE planetary scientist Alfred McEwen described what had caused the shape of a large (terrestrial) mammal to be etched into the surface of our neighbouring planet.

As it turned out, the shape had appeared in an ancient lava flow in Elysium Planitia, the youngest flood-lava province on Mars. This plain is of extreme importance to planetary scientists as it holds evidence for volcanic activity within the last 100 million years - perhaps even as recent as 10 million years ago. Considering Mars is largely geologically inactive, this relatively young lava flow could provide key information as to when the Martian interior cooled and "died", and why it doesn't have tectonic activity like Earth.


The HiRISE image of the "Mars elephant" in Elysium Planitia [NASA/JPL/University of Arizona]

In a moment of science communication at its finest, McEwen continued, using an elephant analogy to illustrate how quickly the lava flow created the plain:

"Most lava floods on Earth are emplaced over years to decades, and this is probably true for much of the lava on Mars as well. An elephant can walk away from the slowly advancing flow front. However, there is also evidence for much more rapidly flowing lava on Mars, a true flood of lava. In this instance, maybe this elephant couldn't run away fast enough."

So, what started the whole "Mars elephant" thing anyway? It was an otherwise unremarkable photo (to a casual observer) of an ancient lava flow, that a photo analyst (obviously with a vivid imagination) grabbed, rotated and said it looked like an elephant. And I have to agree, once you see it, you can't unsee it! As fun and educational as the "Mars elephant" had became, there is also some pretty fascinating science behind how and why the human brain sees familiar objects in apparently random shapes.

It's a (pareidolia) trap!

Have you ever watched a cloud churn and thought it resembled a rabbit? You may have even looked at a slice of toast and thought you could see Jesus burnt into it. Have you stared at the Moon and thought you could see a face staring right back at you? These are all well-known examples of a psychological phenomenon known as "pareidolia".

Faces don't just appear in toast or tea leaves through some divine event; it's our unconscious brain cleverly assembling random shapes and tricking us into seeing something recognisable. Once a shape is recognised, our conscious brain fills in the blanks - often attaching some spiritual or ghostly meaning to how the shape got there. This phenomenon isn't restricted to visual stimuli - audial stimuli can have a similar effect of tricking the brain into thinking it can hear voices in random (or static) noise. It is hypothesised that the phenomenon actually gave our early ancestors an evolutionary advantage. Facial recognition, for example, helps us recognise friend from foe, even in poor visibility - and may have helped prehistoric humans evolve.

Even in our technologically advanced 21st century we still fall into the pareidolia trap, and the tabloid press often follows suit. After all, nothing sells papers faster than a story about Uncle Henry who makes a habit of burning bread so he can see which religious effigy appears next!

But religious shapes and funky clouds to one side, photographs of celestial objects are a hothouse of pareidolia examples. And Mars has had its fair share of misconceptions surrounding random shapes that a few conspiracy theorists and "alien hunters" have recognised as some alien or godly "sign".

The 'Face on Mars'. Again. And again.

In 1976, NASA's Viking 1 orbiter took some of the most detailed photographs of the surface of Mars available at the time. In one scene transmitted back to Earth, a one-mile-wide humanoid head appeared (with an uncanny resemblance to Han Solo's face when he was frozen in Carbonite at the end of the film Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back). This region of Mars is known as Cydonia and it has attracted a huge amount of attention over the years. Is the "face" a monument left behind by an ancient civilisation? Is it a "sign" that humans originated on Mars? Or is it just an optical illusion?


The 1976 Viking 1 orbiter view of the 'Face on Mars' [NASA/JPL/University of Arizona]

After the Viking missions, an armada of spacecraft have visited and orbited the Red Planet and the "Face on Mars" has been photographed to higher and higher resolutions. Through the blurry Viking view, yes, it really does look like a human face - the shadows clearly show a head, mouth and eye sockets. But after more advanced cameras captured the same view, it became clear that the "Face on Mars" was actually a hill and the facial features were just shadows. But that doesn't dilute the fascination scientists have with Cydonia, the mesas jutting out of the plains would be an incredible place to see and study.

Since the "Face on Mars" became an "Interesting Hill on Mars" there are countless other shapes photographed by robotic orbiters, landers and rovers that have been misinterpreted as aliens, alien messages and even top secret human Mars bases!

For example, in 2008 NASA's Mars Rover Spirit sent back a photograph from the Martian surface of some rocks. One of these rocks looked like a humanoid figure. Was it a Martian wondering across the regolith? From that day on, it became known as the "Mars Yeti" - yet another fine piece of Mars pareidolia. Of course, the Yeti claim was bandied around by the tabloid press as if NASA had finally discovered Martians, only instilling the myth in the mainstream psyche, despite the fact it was just a rock.

Another photograph from the Red Planet's surface in 2009 - this time snapped by Spirit's twin rover Opportunity (that is still roving on Mars after over 8 years of service) - appeared to show a statue carved into the side of a crater outcrop, plus some kind of alien technology on the ground. To the conspiracy theorists who made the "discovery", this was irrefutable "proof" of some kind of intelligence chiseling shapes in rocks on Mars. But the fact is that they were just random shapes in rocks that resembled something familiar. In other words: pareidolia.

In 2000, NASA's Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) satellite was zooming over the Aram Chaos region and beamed back photos of a landscape filled with interesting mesas, valleys and other features of scientific interest. But to a group of "remote viewers" - people who claim to have the psychic ability to "see" far-off lands without having to leave the comfort of their home - Aram Chaos is the place where a top secret "black ops" military base is located. Using the MGS images, they were able to justify their outlandish claims. They "identified" two domes as being factory complexes and a "jet of liquid" that appeared to be some kind of waste product from the factory. Unsurprisingly, the "factories" are (like the "Face on Mars") just hills and the spray looks like light material exposed after a Martian landslide. Once again, random shapes on Mars have the habit of igniting the imagination.

Although most of these examples of "Martian pareidolia" are benign, it seems a shame that groups of enthusiasts are expending so much energy on finding peculiar shapes on Mars - while forgetting all logic - when science has so many real unanswered questions about this alien world. Alas, when scientists step in and highlight the logical flaws in their arguments, this becomes proof of some kind of "cover-up" or government conspiracy.

The case of the 'Dead Mars Parrot'


 NASA to launch new Mars rover

Most recently, I was sent a very detailed press release and paper describing the apparent discovery of a parrot on the Martian surface. But no, this isn't a random shape or some trick of the light, according to the Society for Planetary SETI Research (SPSR), this shape is artificial; evidently created by some alien civilisation that once thrived on Mars. "The paper identifies a parrot-shaped geoglyph discovered on the surface of Mars with highly detailed features that go far beyond chance," says the press release. "Two geologists examine the geology of the area and conclude that aesthetic manipulation of the area would be needed to achieve the parrot image."

Drawing parallels with the animal-shaped geoglyphs on Earth created by ancient cultures in the Americas, the SPSR researchers indicate that the "Mars Parrot" they've spotted in MGS photographs of the Argyre Basin region of Mars is an artificial construct. To further justify their "discovery", they asked for the help of experts to confirm that the parrot has all the attributes of a parrot. And looking at the imagery it does indeed look like a parrot - albeit a dead one.

This is an example of a non-mainstream branch of "alien hunting" known as xenoarchaeology - the study of weird shapes on other planets that may be artifacts left behind by aliens. There has been increased interest in the search for aliens, and the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Artifacts (SETA) has been pegged as a possible means of identifying the presence of advanced alien civilisations. Unfortunately, for this kind of extraterrestrial hunt to gain mainstream attention, it needs to apply science, scepticism and a heavy dose of logic before leaping to the conclusion that a parrot shape on Mars is indeed artificial. There at least needs to be some corroborating evidence that supports such an extraordinary claim, rather than just leaning on one argument. Sadly, it would seem that the researchers simply scanned some orbital Mars imagery, spotted a randomly-shaped hill and thought it looked like a parrot. Then they applied some science to justify their belief that as it looks like a parrot, it must be a parrot, and it therefore must have been artificially created.

This kind of flawed logic isn't uncommon - pareidolia is, after all, a part of human nature - but this particular example isn't science, it's a glorified "seeing rabbits in clouds" exercise. I'm certain that of the countless chaotic patterns in clouds, that I would eventually see an anatomically-correct bunny. And I am certain that by searching through the gigabytes of data being streamed back from Mars that, assuming I had enough time, I would also be able to spot a hill shaped like an anatomically-correct parrot.

So, to quote Monty Python: "... that's what I call a dead parrot."

Ian O'Neill is Space Science Producer for Discovery News. He is also the founder and editor of space blog Astroengine.

Follow him on Twitter: @astroengine

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.


Invisible aliens: they’re not life as we know it — yet

http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/savvy-scientist/invisible-aliens-theyre-not-life-as-we-know-it-8212-yet/425

By John Rennie | April 17, 2012, 3:00 AM PDT

Whoops. Over the past four decades, NASA has launched a long series of exploratory probes to distant worlds in our solar system. It has sent up the Kepler space telescope to search for planets around other stars. All these missions have nurtured a hope, however faint, that astronomers might one day see unambiguous signs for life elsewhere in the universe. So it is only with the deepest sense of irony that one can hear the recent news that 36 years ago, scientists might have seen but disregarded proof of life on our closest planetary neighbor, Mars.

Don’t judge the experts too harshly, however. The problem of how to recognize alien life — life that might be radically unlike anything ever seen on Earth even at the molecular level — has been tormenting would-be exobiologists since the early days of space exploration.

What may be most surprising, though, is that this is not just a problem facing space scientists. Some biologists suspect that we may be overlooking alien types of life right here on Earth, too, even though they may be in fairly plain sight.

Missed on Mars

The two Viking landers that arrived on Mars in 1976 provided much of the foundation for our knowledge about the planet’s geology, weather conditions, and atmospheric and surface chemistry until the rovers Spirit and Opportunity arrived in 2003. The most exciting instruments on the Vikings, however, were the ones designed to carry out three kinds of experiments aimed at detecting biological activity in Martian soil. (It’s worth pausing to note that in the history of planetary exploration, those Viking experiments have so far been were the only ones explicitly and specifically designed to detect life.)

Two of the experiments gave disappointing, negative results. The third, called the Labeled Release experiment, did initially seem to detect gas release from soil samples provided with nutrients, which would be in keeping with alien cells growing or reproducing. Yet NASA’s scientists eventually concluded that spurious inorganic chemical reactions might be a more likely explanation in view of the other results. The Vikings search for life was written off as unsuccessful.

A new study appearing in the International Journal of Aeronautical and Space Sciences, however, argues that conclusion was premature. The four American and Italian authors analyzed patterns in the collected Labeled Release experiment data. They argue that the high complexity of that Viking data is more suggestive of biological causes than of simple nonliving ones. (Tuan C. Nguyen described this work in more detail for SmartPlanet last week.) [Update (added 4/17): Keith Cowing at SpaceRef also offers some reasons for viewing this announcement with many grains of salt.]

This reanalysis is not immediately persuading all skeptics, and most scientists probably won’t start believing in Martian life without new, more sharply convincing proof. If nothing else, though, the work demonstrates how tricky and ambiguous chemical evidence for new kinds of life can be — which is a bit of a shame, because it may be indispensable in the ambitious quest for life not as we know it.

Defining life without knowing the answer




The silicon-based Horta from Star Trek. (Credit: Paramount Pictures/CBS Studios)

Say “life not as we know it” and many people immediately think of the Horta from “The Devil in the Dark” episode of Star Trek. That fictional subterranean creature — picture the offspring of a Galapagos tortoise and a heap of carpet samples — was presented as a life form based on silicon rather than the carbon in our nucleotides and amino acids. Corrosive juices secreted from its fibrous asbestos tissues allowed it to burrow through solid rock as casually as we move through air, according to the episode.

In imagining a silicon life form, Star Trek’s writers were less constrained by fact than modern scientists must be. Still, anyone looking for realistic insights can find plenty of inspiration because the scientific literature speculating on the unusual biochemistries of highly exotic alien life is almost surprisingly big.

Two publications in particular show up prominently in recent discussions of the topic. One is a 2004 paper in Current Opinion in Chemical Biology by Steven A. Benner, Alonso Ricardo and Matthew A. Carrigan, “Is there a common chemical model for life in the universe?” The other is a 2007 review, The Limits of Organic Life in Planetary Systems, issued by the National Research Council. Benner contributed to both, which helps to explain many of the similarities in their arguments.

(As an aside: Anyone who wants to know much more about the foundations of exobiology will probably find both of these works to be enjoyable reads. I especially appreciated the whimsy of the NRC report’s dedication page, which notes that it is “Dedicated to Non-Human-Like Life Forms, Wherever They Are.”)

A starting point for both papers is the development of a definition for life that does not rely on familiar (and restrictive) biological concepts such as cells and DNA. Even young children in science class learn how tricky it can be to define life uniquely by its characteristics — after all, fire consumes, crystals grow, and so on. The problem only gets harder when one wants to avoid being too close-minded about what alien life could be.

Both publications posit that life, at its most abstract, involves a thermodynamic disequilibrium. That is, life involves physical structures that can only maintain their integrity with inputs of energy. These physical structures will require covalent bonds between atoms (to allow nontrivial chemical reactions), so the environment in which life appears must allow such chemistry to occur. Some kind of liquid, but not necessarily water, would therefore also be necessary to enable those reactions. Finally, some molecules in the living system would need to be capable of Darwinian evolution for the life to arise. (Take note, creationist doubters of evolution: it is now a useful part of the definition of life!)

From theory and experiments, both papers argue that life with these traits could evolve under a wide (but definitely limited) range of environments. Carbon-based life on worlds with liquid water might represent a particularly versatile and common set of solutions, but biochemistry could go in many directions even on Earthlike worlds. And on planets and moons where terrestrial life would perish instantly, life based on silicon instead of carbon or liquid hydrocarbons instead of water might thrive.

Drink methane, breathe hydrogen




Haze of hydrocarbons in Titan's atmosphere, as photographed by the Cassini probe. (Credit: NASA)

An interesting case in point is Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Its average surface temperature is about -180 degrees C. (-290 degrees F.) and its atmosphere contains almost no water vapor, though a liquid mixture of water and ammonia under pressure seems to exist under thick layers of ice, according to the Cassini probe. Parts of Titan’s surface are nonetheless wet with lakes of liquid methane and ethane raining out of the hydrocarbon-rich atmosphere.

Measurements by the Cassini mission’s Huygens probe in 2010, however, suggest that the amounts of hydrogen, acetylene, and ethane on Titan’s surface seem to be lower than investigators had expected to find. That finding fits almost eerily well with a speculation by Chris P. McKay and Heather D. Smith that appeared in the journal Icarus in 2005. They had theorized that Titan might be home to organisms based on liquid methane rather than liquid water. These “methanogens” would breathe in hydrogen gas instead of oxygen and use it to consume organic compounds like acetylene and ethane.

The existence of such methane-swilling organisms is still no more than a hypothesis, but it’s one that any future missions to Titan will surely want to test.

A fourth domain

We might not have to embark for Titan (or even Mars) to find bizarre new forms of life, however. There’s at least a possibility that life as we don’t know it might be lurking on Earth. Perhaps it’s hiding in some very secluded refuges, or perhaps we’re simply not recognizing it for what it is. After all, one of the three major domains of terrestrial life — the unicellular organisms called archaea that often live in extreme environments like volcanic vents — were lumped in with bacteria until about 50 years ago.

Jonathan A. Eisen of the University of California Davis Genome Center and his colleagues, working with Craig Venter, analyzed DNA in samples of seawater collected from around the world, which contained fragments of genomes from countless unidentified organisms. They then tried to organize the collected sequences for certain families of genes into phylogenetic trees to approximate how they might be related to one another. What they found, as they described in the journal PLoS ONE in 2011, was that not all the genes associated simply into the three recognized domains of life. One explanation for the anomalous ones was that they came from some unknown fourth division of life. (Eisen’s own detailed blog description of what he and his team did tells the story behind the paper most eloquently.)

No one knows what organisms could be the bearers of those anomalous genes, but one possibility that Carl Zimmer has discussed in his eye-opening book A Planet of Viruses is that they come from the nucleocytoplasmic large DNA viruses, a group of viruses so massive that they were formerly mistaken for bacteria. Science is only beginning to understand what these viruses represent.

Stalking the shadow biosphere

Nor do those viruses represent the outer edge of how weird life on Earth might be. In recent years, some scientists have begun to wonder about the possibility that our planet harbors a “shadow biosphere” of organisms that differ from conventional live at a profoundly basic level. Their evolution might have branched away long before the recognized domains appeared, or they might have evolved separately and in parallel with the rest of life.

As Carol E. Cleland and Shelley D. Copley wrote in the International Journal of Astrobiology, for example, variant forms of life could use different sets of amino acids in their proteins or different pairs of nucleotides in their DNA. Or they might use versions of familiar molecules that have mirror-image symmetries.

An even more radical possibility that the physicist and astrobiologist Paul Davies has discussed is that some of the RNA-based life that may have predated DNA-based life on Earth could have survived. RNA life would not only lack DNA: it might also have no need for proteins because folded RNA could do many of the same jobs as those molecules. Unencumbered by any need for protein-making organelles, RNA-life cells could be much smaller than conventional cells.

RNA life might therefore be extremely well suited to an existence deep underground. (Shades of the Horta!) Not that RNA life would have super-advanced burrowing skills; rather, RNA-life cells could happily occupy minute spaces inside and between rocks.




Petroglyph from Death Valley. (Credit: National Park Service archives)

What’s amazing is that most of these unusual forms of life could easily be overlooked. Science has still not had a chance to characterize more than a fraction of the ordinary types of life believed to exist in nature.

In fact, it might be literally true that one piece of evidence for alien types of life has been right in front of mankind all along. Back into prehistory, human beings in desert areas have been scratching glyphs and drawings into rocks that have dark weathered surfaces. Those desert varnishes coating the rocks, however, have often perplexed geologists: good explanations for what causes these mineralized layers to form have been lacking. Biological activity has always seemed like one possibility but the agents responsible haven’t been in evidence.

Maybe we just haven’t known what to look for.