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Friday, March 28, 2003

Dark Streaks Possible Signs of Life

Olympus Mons.
Olympus Mons.
New theories about the dark streaks on Mars are revitalizing old theories on life.

Data from the Mars Global Surveyor has shown mysterious dark streaks appearing in regions of ancient geological activity and known water deposits, particularly on the solar system's largest mountain, the leviathan Olympus Mons. At first, they were thought to be caused by wind, but recent calculations and new observations of them have shown them to be much more active than could be accounted for by wind.

The next idea was that they were actual liquid water, flowing on a planet that contained pressures and temperatures seemingly designed to eliminate that possibility. This idea is rapidly gaining credibility, and seems to hold huge promise for the possibility of life surviving within these.

Now, an even more radical theory has been proposed. The researchers that studied the Martian meteorite from Antarctica that in 1996 was claimed to contain signs of fossil life have proposed the idea that the streaks are actually bacterial growth. The huge colonies of bacteria would be supplied by liquid water from geothermal activity melting deposits of water ice known to be prevalent in the region, or perhaps even from a liquid aquifer under the surface. Residual geothermal activity in Olympus Mons could account for such heating. This theory has yet to be refuted.

This potential discovery also has implications for an older theory based on satellite evidence of dark spots changing near the poles. With all of the new information we didn't have two years ago, this theory is increasingly more likely. In September 2001 a group of Hungarian researchers proposed that dark dunes that changed colors and locations significantly between different observations were the result of bacteria similar to those found on Earth in the Antarctic. We now know that this region also corresponds to large water deposits.

These theories are obviously not yet accepted as scientific fact by all mainstream scientists, but it is obvious that real science produced them. We may have more definitive answers to the age old question of life on Mars within a few years as new spacecraft land.

Webmaster's Note: WOW!!! This is exciting! Wouldn't it be something if those dark spots Christiaan Huygens first observed in 1659 were actually the first evidence of life from outside Earth!

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- posted by Brian @ 12:35 EST