Is There Life on Mars (or anywhere else out there)?

I doubt I need to explain to anyone that NASA landed a new rover on Mars last week. I have been looking forward to it for a while and am excited about what it is going to find and the picture it is going to send back to earth. The whole landing process was a fantastic technical achievement in itself and for anyone who has not seen it, I thoroughly recommend the movie & Minutes of Terror (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ki_Af_o9Q9s) which describes the complex process and just why such a crazy method was required. Thankfully it all panned out and the hard work that went into just the landing paid off. Now lets see what happens next.

For those with an XBOX 360 Kinect, there is also the free game of the landing (http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-GB/Product/Mars-Rover-Landing /66acd000-77fe-1000-9115-d80258480836). I’ve not yet managed a safe one, but then I’ve only had two or three attempts so far, I need to find myself some more free time.

But what about the life?

Several blog commentators have focused on the rover having the ability to detect the early building blocks of life. The mission is much more than that, it’s a mission designed to find out more about the past environment of Mars and more detail on its geologic makeup. Technicalities aside, this is a mission that is connected with life possibly evolving somewhere other than on earth.

Now that life will never be anything other than small microbes. No one is seriously suggesting that anything that could be classed as intelligent has ever existed on Mars. There certainly won’t be any fossil bones being dug up or discovered on Mars.

When I think about that fact in the mind-set of my former creationist self I am immediately dismissive of the importance of finding these microbes. Of course those are not life I would say, they are a natural process that happens everywhere. That does nothing to disprove God’s creation and if anything a wet Mars with flowing water but nothing evolved would prove creationism. In fact my previous creationist self was so confident that Earth was the only place God put people that I utterly dismissed the idea that any intelligent life could exist out there. By out there I mean anywhere that’s not Earth.

One (relatively) recent event that served to strengthen that attitude was when NASA released photos of a landslip on a crater wall on Mars. The news and items at the time suggested that they could be the result of wet in the sand, either ground ice thawing or another method of getting moisture into the sand and causing slip. Something like in this document (http://www.raschultzunr.net/pdf%20reprints/NeufferRAS-VM06.pdf), the photos in that document don’t look familiar so it may not be that specific event I am talking about, just one like it. It was a few years back now and I can’t recall all the exact details.

Anyway, NASA released the photos and I had fun looking at them. I heard the news about them being wet caused but when I looked at them I genuinely doubted the wet story and said they were dry sand slips. A few weeks later, NASA announced that they were in deed dry sand slips, I was vindicated. I was right, NASA was wrong and that proved creationism and that there was no life outside of Earth. Yes, I really did interpret that small vindication as an absolute victory.

 

So What’s changed?

 

Well, now I am excited about the prospect of NASA’s new Curiosity rover finding stuff not yet found before. Clues to what the atmosphere once consisted of, more evidence of volumes of flowing water; who cares what it is, it is going to be interesting no matter.

My attitude to life elsewhere has changed. If it is found I welcome it. If it does exist (no matter the form) I would be excited. I’m not expecting proof of anything we could communicate with (though that would be immensely cool) I just want to see and know what there is for us to see and know. I don’t have a preconceived idea on what is or isn’t.

 

It is not Just Mars either

 

Saturn’s moon Titan and Jupiter’s moon Europa are likely better candidates in the search for life (http://earthguide.ucsd.edu/virtualmuseum/litu/10_3.shtml).

So here I am, excited about what discoveries are waiting within our Solar System and wishing I had enough years to see them all. My old self who would automatically dismiss what I didn’t like has gone. Now the unknown is welcomed with eager open arms.

 

‘ere There be Dragons

I’ve mentioned previously that I like to read blogs of those whom I disagree with. Included in that list are a couple of creationist blogs. Its interesting reading posts that lay out what I used to believe and balancing that with what science actually says. There is a very common theme and its basically creationist claims are weak on science and strong on apologetics. That may work for theology but it doesn’t cut it in the hard-nosed world of evidence based reality.

Every now and then a post will come along that flummoxes me and recently I had one of those over at Bible-Science Guy. Read it here, especially the embedded PDF, its not very long (http://biblescienceguy.wordpress.com/articles/2012-articles/2012-05-dragons/).

Basically its an attempt to link the myth of dragons into the biblical narrative and exit with something along the lines of Dragons were once real. Old myths, such as George slaying the dragon, are referenced along with obscure biblical references to Leviathans and the such. Other dragon traits such as fire-breathing, flying, gold hoarding and magical are quickly brushed over, if they are mentioned at all. The whole thing is a very intriguing read and the mental loops required to take it in as believable are quite fantastic.

I do especially like the cartoon image. The insinuation that they could have been in an egg really did make me chuckle. How did Noah sex the creatures that were in an egg?

In my creationist days I never once considered that dragons were anything but mythical. I don’t really see any reason why a creationist would consider otherwise to be honest. It just seems so silly. Its fine to speculate on the various reasons why the dragon myths came about, that’s a worthwhile field of study in my opinion. How myths and legends change over time and in retelling helps us learn more about what we as humans have become and shapes our understanding of language and belief.

The BSG post takes it all a step too far. What next I wonder, werewolves and vampires were real too? What about the yeti and the chupacabra?

Stellar Proof of an Old Universe

I know that the E in YEC stands for Earth. However, being a YEC means taking the first few verses of Genesis literally and that means believing that the universe predate the Earth by only a couple of days. To accept an old universe but a young earth is to deny the very beginning of YECism.

The mechanics behind stars is well tested and scientists now know will great confidence how stars burn and die and the processes that go on within them. In short, stars start off burning Hydrogen, which forms Helium. This process continues, with a new, slightly heavier element being formed as a result of the burning of another. Eventually the Iron is reached, at which point the process stops and the star gets an Iron core, surrounded by layers of the preceding elements. When the iron core gets to a critical point, the star dies in a spectacular explosion and it is from this explosion that further, heavier elements are created. These include precious metals like Gold and Silver as well as radioactive elements like Uranium.

How does this prove an Old Universe?

This proves an old universe at its basic level because as humans, our very existence and culture relies on there having been at least one star that has gone kaboom and in earth shattering manner. The calcium in your bones and the gold in the wedding band on my left hand exist because a star once exploded.

Because stars are so well studied and understood and we know their lifetimes are measured in the millions of years, there is simply no chance whatsoever that the universe could only be a few days older than the earth. For a YEC to literally believe in a universe that young, they must believe that either all the elements that are attributed to a star exploding were miraculously created on spec, or in the first days of creation stars were created and exploded in order to create those elements. The lifespan of those stars would have been massively compressed and the burning hugely accelerated. Neither of which can be proven.

This is the continuing problem for the YEC, unprovable ideas which fly in the face of scientific discovery. Why did the YEV God create everything in an instant, but make it look like it was all so old? Its as though he is the greatest deceiver that ever lived.

I should have paid more attention in school

I find this revelation about stars utterly fascinating and pondering on the fact that I am made of star stuff is mind blowing in its awesomeness. Yet, I also have to embarrassingly remember that I learnt about the Nuclear Fusion (or is it Fission?) within stars in science at school. How come when I sunk into YECism I never pondered this for longer? It might have saved me a whole load of trouble.