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Are we Martians?

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  • Roger Anderton
    ARE WE ALL MARTIANS? In an article in the Daily Mail, it claims that the idea that life originated on Mars and then came to Earth is a new theory by Paul
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 2, 2003

      In an article in the Daily Mail, it claims that the idea that life originated on Mars and then came to Earth is a new theory by Paul Davies. I thought that sort of idea has been around for some time (Hoyle had same sort of ideas?); it could be Davies now being given the credit for an old theory (?) - typical rewrite of the facts.

      Anyway, the article also admits to problems with the standard version of Evolutionary theory, and says that the idea that life originated on Mars before coming to Earth is trying to overcome those problems. What a thing to admit to? - i.e. Evolutionary theory has a lot of bodges to it, and does not work properly; and this fact is usually glossed over by Supporters of Evolution.

      Full Article follows:

      Are We Humans descended from Martians?

      by Michael Hanlon, Daily Mail, Saturday, February 1, 2003

      The question of how, where and why life be has been taxing mankind for millennia. Did it, as Charles Darwin postulated, begin in a `warm little pond' somewhere on the ancient Earth, the `primordial soup' of popular legend? Now a new and startling theory suggests this cannot be so. There was no primordial soup, a biological Eden on Earth, for the simple fact that when life began, Earth was simply uninhabitable.

      Instead, the first life - the microbes that are the ancestors of every living thing today - evolved more than 35 million miles away on the planet Mars.

      If this theory is right, then the implications are profound. We will have to rethink our whole relationship with our planet, our adopted home rather than our true cradle. Mankind will have to get used to the idea that we are, in fact, Martians.

      In his new book, Professor Paul Davies, an acclaimed physicist and astrobiologist at Macquarie University in Sydney, says that the chances that Earth was the original home to life are remote.

      `Up to now, everyone has assumed that because there is life on Earth it must have started on Earth,' he says. `But there is no reason to believe that this is so'.

      Professor Davies believes that the microscopic organisms from which we evolved arrived here, ready-made. And, in a new book, he explains that the most likely place they could have come from was Mars, because `it was simply a better place for life to get started back then'.

      So what has prompted Professor Davies's thesis - and could he be right?

      Earth, Mars and the rest of the bodies in the Solar System were formed from a vast cloud of coagulated gas and dust around 4,500 million years ago. Several million years later, the Solar System had more or less settled down into what we know today - nine planets orbiting a fiery star, the Sun.

      But conditions on Earth were very different to what they are today The atmosphere was a thick, unbreathable smog of carbon dioxide; hydrogen and sulphur Water, spewed out by volcanoes, rained drown- from the skies, creating one vast ocean. What land there was consisted of sterile, bare rocks.

      It was a hellish environment and every few hundred thousand years or so; it became much, much worse. Huge asteroids - rocks the size of whole countries - that were the left over rubble from the formation of the planets swarmed through space. Earth was hit by

      them regularly and a global cataclysm occurred each time.

      An asteroid 300 miles across, for example, hitting the Earth at 30,000 mph would dig a crater a thousand miles across and 30 miles deep: A huge quantity of rock would be vaporised in a fire-ball that would engulf the planet, creating a 3,000 C furnace. The

      oceans would boil dry, and molten rock would rain from the sky.

      Eventually, after a thousand years or so, things would cool down, and the steam in the atmosphere would condense once more, creating a 2,000-year deluge that would replenish the oceans.

      This happened, it has been calculated, several hundred times before the supply of asteroids finally started to run out about 3.8 billion years ago. (One early impact was so violent that a huge chunk of the Earth got blasted into space and formed our Moon.)

      The Earth still gets hit from time to time (a six-mile-wide asteroid is thought to have done for the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, and a small chunk of ice or rock hit Siberia in 1908, causing devastation) but, fortunately, such events are now extremely rare.

      On Earth, the scars of that ancient, hellish epoch, appropriately called the Hadean Era by geologists, have long since been worn away by the wind, seas and the rain.

      But we can still see the evidence that our part of the Solar System was once a lethal place to be every time we look at the Moon. After it was formed, it underwent asteroid bombardment too, and, with no air or water to erode them, the ancient craters litter its battered surface to this day.

      So it is clear that life cannot have started on Earth during the Hadean. It would never have survived the constant bombardment from space. The trouble is, there is clear evidence that there WAS life around at this time, and explaining its existence is a puzzle.

      Fossils found in ancient Greenland rock's point to primitive bacteria existing more than 3.8 billion year's ago. It is inconceivable that these were the first organisms - bacteria are complex creatures, with well-organised cells and a complement of DNA.

      They must have evolved from simpler, proto-life forms. But these could not have existed before then, because the Earth, with its constant battering from space, was too inhospitable.

      Mars, however, wasn't. The Red Planet today is a cold inhospitable, nearly airless desert.

      Temperatures average minus 50C, the air is a hundred times thinner than ours, and the

      surface is bathed in ultra-violet radiation from the Sun. There are no obvious signs of life. But Mars wasn't always like this. worse.

      When Earth was a choking hell-hole, Mars was a paradise. Rivers, perhaps even oceans, flowed across its surface (the water now lies underground, in a permanent ice layer) . We can still see the dried-up river beds today.

      For this to happen, it must have had a warmer climate - as warm, perhaps, as an English summer.

      Mars was an ideal place for the genesis of life.

      Of course, Mars, like the Earth, would also have been hit by asteroids. We can still see the crater scars on its surface. Crucially, though, Mars is much smaller than the Earth -just 4,000 miles across (our planet measures more than 8,000 miles, pole-to-pole).

      This has a dual significance. Firstly, Mars presents a smaller target for asteroids to hit, while its lower gravity means that it would have attracted fewer of them in the first place. So Mars never received the cosmic pasting that was visited upon our planet.

      This is why Professor Davies and others believe that life probably began beneath the surface of the Red Planet, protected from radiation and asteroid bombardment. This could not have happened on Earth because our planet was much hotter internally

      `On Earth, there was no "Goldilocks zone" - where conditions were just right for life to get started,' Professor Davies says. `On Mars, however, there was less danger from above. It was also cooler underground.'

      Later, Martian life may have colonised the surface just as it has on Earth, and Martian animals proper animals, not microbes may even have thrived.

      But how did Martian life transfer to Earth, millions of miles across space? In fact, it is now clear to scientists that a mechanism for getting Martians to Earth has been in place ever since the two planets formed.

      In 1911, in the town of Nakhla in Egypt, one of the most remarkable events in history took place. A large rock fell from the sky, and landed on an unfortunate dog. The dog, whose name has not been recorded, turns out to have been the only known Earthling to have been killed by a Martian missile.

      For the rock was a meteorite, originating on Mars - although this was not confirmed until many years later.

      Scientists analysing the Nakhla meteorite found that it contained gases identical to those found in the Martian atmosphere by Nasa's Viking probes, which landed on the Red Planet in 1976. Since then, several dozen Martian meteorites have been discovered.

      It is thought these Martian rocks arrived here after being blasted off the surface by asteroid impacts. As we have seen, Mars, being small, doesn't get hit often, but it does suffer impacts occasionally, and it would have done rather more so in the distant past.

      When an asteroid hits, a large quantity of rock is blasted off into space. Calculations show that about 7.5pc of this material ends up hitting the Earth. So for more than four billion years, a steady stream of Martian debris has rained down on our planet.

      This is how, Professor Davies believes, life got from Mars to Earth - it was hurled off the surface and across space, encased in a lump of Martian rock. It would only have taken one such rock, containing living microbes or spores, to survive the journey to Earth, to have seeded our planet.

      And it has been discovered that some bacteria can survive in space. Experiments performed on a germ called Bacillus subtilis by Japanese scientists showed that even when bombarded with harsh radiation, deep frozen to -196C and kept in a vacuum, the microbes were not

      destroyed. And bacterial spores can survive for millions of years.

      Prof. Davies's theory can only be correct, of course, if there was life on Mars to get here in the first place. So far, our space probes have shown little evidence that life survives there today. But a few years ago, spectacular evidence came to light that micro-organisms once thrived on the Red Planet.

      On December 27, 1984, an American scientist called Roberta Score, working in the Allen Hills area of Antarctica, spotted a strange, greenish stone, and picked it up using disinfected gloves. The rock she realised; was a meteorite, and it was sent off, in a sterile box, to the

      Johnson Space Centre in Houston to be examined. There it lay, in a cupboard, for nine years.

      It wasn't until 1993 that it was realised that Roberta Score's meteorite came from Mars. The stone - called ALH84001 - was to become the most famous rock in history.

      In August 1996, President Bill Clinton announced that Nasa scientists had discovered what looked like microscopic fossil bacteria in ALH84001. The world's media went crazy; wildly inaccurate stories proliferated of `worms' found in Martian rocks, and fears of a `Martian plague'. But the gist was correct: this was the first evidence of alien life ever seen.

      Not little green men perhaps, but even the apparent discovery of Martian microbes is, as Bill Clinton said, as `far-reaching and awe-inspiring as can be imagined'. The implications of the finding - yet to be 100 per cent confirmed - are tremendous.

      No one is suggesting that this particular meteorite was the one that carried our ancestors here from Mars. What it does show, however, is that there was - and maybe still is - life on Mars.

      If so, the notion that man's true genesis took place on the. Red Planet is made more compelling.

      The best way of proving Professor Davies's hypothesis would be to go to Mars, find some living microbes (which he believes may survive underground or round hot springs), and compare their DNA with that used by organisms on Earth.

      The fact that every creature in existence uses DNA, and that the proteins used to build everything from petunias to whales have the same chemical structure, shows all life on Earth is related and descended from a common ancestor. A simple genetic examination - in effect, a paternity test - on a Martian organism would confirm, or disprove, our kinship.

      Of course, even if this were so, it does not prove that life began on Mars. It is far less likely but still possible, Davies concedes, that life began on Earth; and then travelled to Mars. If so, any `Martians' would in fact be Earthlings.

      Rocks from both planets have been speeding through space since the dawn of the Solar System. As Chris McKay, a Nasa scientist, puts it, `Mars and Earth have been swapping spit for millions of years.' .

      The discovery that men (and women) really are from Mars would change the way we think about ourselves, our planet and our place in the Universe. Darwin showed that mankind is nothing special: just a hairless ape with a big brain.

      If Professor Davies and his supporters are correct, then not only is Man just another species of ape, he isn't even living on his home planet.

      We really have travelled a long way out of Eden.

      · THE Origin of Life By Paul Davies is published by Penguin Books, priced £7.99.

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