Martian 'blueberries' could be clues to presence of life

Sep 12, 2012
Martian 'blueberries' could be clues to presence of life

(Phys.org)—A discovery at The University of Western Australia that microbes helped shape rare spheres of iron-oxide on Earth may aid the newly landed Curiosity Rover in its search for the first verifiable signs of extra-terrestrial life in similar rocks on Mars.

Spherical concretions - dubbed "blueberries" - were first found on the Red Planet in 2004 by an earlier NASA robotic probe - - providing some of the first evidence for liquid water on Mars.

Earth-based analogues for these "blueberries" are found in the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone near the Colorado River, Utah, where the concretions range in size from small marbles to cannonballs and consist of a hard shell of iron oxide surrounding a softer sandy interior.

Previous theories suggested these concretions were formed by simple chemical reactions without the help of . However, new UWA research shows clear evidence that microbes were essential in their formation.

This raises the possibility that Martian "blueberries" may not only reveal that water was present on Mars - but life too.

UWA scientists David Wacey and Matt Kilburn used high-resolution NanoSIMS technology at the University's Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis to show clear relationships in the Utah concretions between microbe-like forms and concentrations of biological elements such as carbon and nitrogen.

Their findings - in collaboration with scientists from the University of Nebraska - feature on the front cover of the August issue of the journal Geology.

University of Nebraska Assistant Professor Karrie Weber said UWA's CMCA facility - which is used to study everything from early life on Earth to , , rocks and soils, and nanotechnology - was chosen because of its demonstrated success in identifying microbial fossils.

The latest six-wheeled Mars Rover - Curiosity - landed successfully on August 6 after a 570 million kilometre journey from Earth.  The touch-down site at Gale Crater was chosen for its geological potential to reveal signs of water and past microbial life.

Dr Wacey said scientists hoped Curiosity Rover would find more "Martian blueberries" near the new landing site.  Should this occur, the robot is equipped to identify mineralogy, detect organic material, capture high-resolution images and bring humans a step closer to answering the question "are we alone?"

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ubavontuba
3.8 / 5 (8) Sep 12, 2012
This is too cool! I hope they can confirm the Martian blueberries are essentially identical to the Earth-based analogues, and therefore strongly imply life exists/existed on Mars.

Next mission, send up a microscope.

cantdrive85
1.9 / 5 (9) Sep 12, 2012
Here are a couple of articles discussing "blueberries" and how they can be made in a lab using electrical forces.

http://www.thunde...nomalies

http://www.thunde...ries.htm
deatopmg
1 / 5 (5) Sep 12, 2012
It's obvious from very many photos from Mars, many showing "blueberries", that liquid water still flows there from underground springs.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
3.7 / 5 (6) Sep 12, 2012
Coincidentally, Opportunity has happened on sediments with concretions different from blueberries, and more like the described concretions here.

@ cantdrive85:

Concretions can form by many abiotic and biotic processes. Martian blueberries looks like Earth blueberries, who are formed by wet abiotic processes. There is no mystery there, and there is no gap for EU/PU religious systems.
cantdrive85
2.8 / 5 (9) Sep 12, 2012
Coincidentally, Opportunity has happened on sediments with concretions different from blueberries, and more like the described concretions here.

@ cantdrive85:

Concretions can form by many abiotic and biotic processes. Martian blueberries looks like Earth blueberries, who are formed by wet abiotic processes. There is no mystery there, and there is no gap for EU/PU religious systems.

Can you point me in the direction of the peer-reviewed paper and laboratory experiments that definitively proves your claim conclusively. I know there is an accepted theory on the matter, but as with the other theoretical sciences there is nothing written in stone, contrary to your opinion.
Caliban
4.3 / 5 (4) Sep 12, 2012
Earth-based analogues for these "blueberries" are found in the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone near the Colorado River, Utah, where the concretions range in size from small marbles to cannonballs and consist of a hard shell of iron oxide surrounding a softer sandy interior.

Also known as "Moqui Marbles", and can be formed by at least two different processes, at least one of which is biological.

Article here on physorg about the very thing not long ago, with proof of formation of MMs biologically:

http://phys.org/n...rth.html

So, in conjunction with pretty clear evidence for liquid H2O on Mars, doesn't seem like much of a stretch to expect some primitive(at least) life to be present.

I'm not saying that this is definitely the case --but I am saying that it is a very real possibility, and we won't have to wait much longer for the answer.
cantdrive85
2 / 5 (8) Sep 12, 2012
Caliban, "clear evidence" is not code for proof, it's just evidence. In that sense, the fact that blueberries created in a lab share the exact characteristics as those found in nature seems to me to be even clearer evidence. There's no guess work involved, mix in appropriate minerals/chemicals, add electric current pinched on matrix, voila, blueberry. No assumptions needed!
ubavontuba
2.2 / 5 (5) Sep 13, 2012
Caliban:

So there's no confusion, I gave you a "5" rating.

and we won't have to wait much longer for the answer.
Well, there's no guarantee Curiosity Rover set down in a sweet spot, but it looks very promising. Let's hope for the best.

I'm really curious to find out more about the darker material around Mt. Sharp. In this image:

http://www.nasa.g...full.jpg

...some of it looks so smooth I wouldn't be surprised if it has/had a water/ice component.

Mars' core is supposedly molten, so if water is still abundant in the crust, I wouldn't be surprised if, due to thermal conductivity, there are substantial underground reservoirs of liquid water.

http://www.newsci...ore.html

Maybe the next mission should include a microscope ...and a drilling rig!

Caliban
5 / 5 (2) Sep 13, 2012
Caliban, "clear evidence" is not code for proof, it's just evidence. In that sense, the fact that blueberries created in a lab share the exact characteristics as those found in nature seems to me to be even clearer evidence. There's no guess work involved, mix in appropriate minerals/chemicals, add electric current pinched on matrix, voila, blueberry. No assumptions needed!


Same set up, but instead of current pinched on matrix, add water, the microbes and sufficient time, and viola --moqui marbles!

No assumptions needed!

What you are saying is that the process which you have detailed is the one that you prefer.

However, the Mars environment may very well not prefer that method.

As I said --we shouldn't have to wait long for the answer.

Caliban
not rated yet Sep 13, 2012
Caliban:So there's no confusion, I gave you a "5" rating. and we won't have to wait much longer for the answer. Well, there's no guarantee Curiosity Rover set down in a sweet spot, but it looks very promising. Let's hope for the best.I'm really curious to find out more about the darker material around Mt. Sharp. In this image:http://www.nasa.g...g...some of it looks so smooth I wouldn't be surprised if it has/had a water/ice component.Mars' core is supposedly molten, so if water is still abundant in the crust, I wouldn't be surprised if, due to thermal conductivity, there are substantial underground reservoirs of liquid water.http://www.newsci...tmlMaybe the next mission should include a microscope ...and a drilling rig!




We are in close agreement on this, ubavontuba.
You won't be surprised to note that both of your posts in this comment thread were 5 ranks from me.

Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
not rated yet Sep 13, 2012
Since we are speaking of ranking, just to be clear - I haven't gotten that system past my preferred browser malware protection yet. Otherwise I would rank my ass off!

@ cantdrive85:

"Can you point me in the direction of the peer-reviewed paper and laboratory experiments that definitively proves your claim conclusively."

No, because the images were released earlier this week. You and I have to wait with bated breaths for a couple of months for any science based on that observation.

About concretions in general, Caliban presented that splendidly.

" "clear evidence" is not code for proof, it's just evidence."

All of science is based on evidence.

It can't be any other way. Truth values are mere relative and inferior - not able to capture the nature of observations (status of testing, uncertainty, status between alternatives). While universal facts without alternatives can become absolute.

And it works.
carl_tanner_77
5 / 5 (5) Sep 13, 2012
@Cantdrive85....let's just put your EU nonsense to rest right now. Where are your own peer reviewed papers and lab experiments...OUTSIDE of the ones I know you'll quote from the IEEE Journals. I want to see articles reviewed by geologists and sedimentologists, the guys that know about this phenomenon, not plasma physicists or electrical engineers. As for your flippant comments about proof and evidence, it's quite obvious you have little or no background in any science, otherwise you'd know the real difference between them both and that science doesn't deal in proofs. It deals in evidence and observable facts. Not wild speculation and semi-religious fantasies. It's the evidence, via observation and such, which either substantiates or rejects a theory. Not wishful thinking and grandiose imagination. If you want evidence via peer reviewed papers, they're easy enough to find. I suggest you take a look for yourself.Just type blueberry concretions in Google and follow the links.
carl_tanner_77
5 / 5 (3) Sep 13, 2012
@Cantdrive85....BTW, I am a geologist.

cantdrive85
1 / 5 (7) Sep 13, 2012
@Cantdrive85....BTW, I am a geologist.


There in lies the problem...
"Scientists tend to resist interdisciplinary inquiries into their own territory. In many instances, such parochialism is founded on the fear that intrusion from other disciplines would compete unfairly for limited financial resources and thus diminish their own opportunity for research."
[Naming territorial dominance, greed, and fear of the unknown, as some of the influences on the increasing specialization of science]
— Hannes Alfvén
GSwift7
4.2 / 5 (5) Sep 13, 2012
Maybe the next mission should include a microscope


Where would you look?

You do realize that if you point a microscope at your keyboard, where there are sure to be microbes, you would not be likely to see one. They are so tiny compared to the area you are looking at, that you would need to be very lucky or have a LOT of time to look around before you would actually see one. In laboratories, when they want to look at viruses, they use incubators and culture dishes to grow dense populations of the organisms they want to look at. Unless you know what the Martian microbe eats and what it likes to have for temperature, light, humidity, etc. you can't incubate and grow a culture of them.

Randomly looking around for microbes with a microscope would be like randomly opening a large phone book and placing your finger down with your eyes closed, and hoping to hit your own name. That's why they haven't done it yet. It would be silly.
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (2) Sep 14, 2012
Maybe the next mission should include a microscope


Where would you look?
Anywhere that looked promising, obviously. Here's an image of microbes on a single grain of sand:

http://www.flickr...8011500/

You do realize that if you point a microscope at your keyboard, where there are sure to be microbes, you would not be likely to see one.
Oh, I doubt that.

E. coli Bacteria on a keyboard:

http://visualsunl...ALNzqjfQ

Randomly looking around for microbes with a microscope...
So you think they intend to just randomly use the tools they put on Curiosity? Don't be stupid. Having the right tool in the toolbelt for when you need it, is the key.

GSwift7
not rated yet Sep 14, 2012
Anywhere that looked promising, obviously. Here's an image of microbes on a single grain of sand:


I appreciate your optimism, but I'll repeat what I said above: There's a reason they haven't bothered to include a microscope yet. If you think the guys at NASA are dumb then why do you even bother reading about this stuff? You need to build your own Mars rover and then you'll be in charge. You can run the mission better than the idiots at NASA, so I'm sure you'll find all the things those morons are too stupid to figure out. /sarcasm

Not to change the subject or anything, but... Did you guys see that the full hi-res 'video' from the descent camera is available on the JPL website now? I downloaded it over the weekend. It's really cool. I don't recall seeing any story about it here.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (1) Sep 16, 2012
@ cantdrive85:

"There in lies the problem".

With every comment you show how little interest in science and how much interest in anti-science pseudoscience you have. Science areas develop because there is a lot to learn.

What you are describing is hence not a large problem, because science works and so the areas with them.

Yes, you can always find problems because that is how science progress, by finding what not works and keep the rest. Alfvén for example racked up many failures among his successes (say, his "plasma" cosmology of matter-antimatter regions). Should we therefore not listen to him?
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (1) Sep 16, 2012
@ ubavontuba:

Still with the microscope? Curiosity has two of them, same as the MERs that had one each. They are for geological purposes.

As for finding microbes in the field, GSwift7 is correct. Microbiologists have been using culturing to be able to study them, which is a problematic area. It takes time, few microbes can be cultured. Without culturing, you have a hell of a time to find and identify microbes at high resolutions.

There is no microscope aboard which can resolve ordinary prokaryote (non-nuclear) cell sizes because it is useless without culture techniques. This is not rocket science.
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (1) Sep 16, 2012
Still with the microscope?

As for finding microbes in the field, GSwift7 is correct. Microbiologists have been using culturing to be able to study them, which is a problematic area. It takes time, few microbes can be cultured. Without culturing, you have a hell of a time to find and identify microbes at high resolutions.

There is no microscope aboard which can resolve ordinary prokaryote (non-nuclear) cell sizes because it is useless without culture techniques. This is not rocket science.
Aparently, you never looked at a drop from a pond under a microscope.

Here's a paper on using Antarctic studies as an anologue for Mars. Note where it states:

"these investigations need to be performed in the natural lithobiontic microhabitat. ...the investigator should work on microorganisms in situ. ...the epilithic or endolithic microhabitat must not be disturbed."

http://www.im.mic...caso.pdf

Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
not rated yet Sep 16, 2012
Of course I have, as most students. But Mars is not a pond, nor are microbiologists able to take random samples and look for microorganisms.

The article you provide confirm this.

- They were as of -02 looking to develop in situ methods, and apparently these methods were not finished and secured as mainstream by early -04 when Curiosity instrument proposals were collected. [ http://en.wikiped...boratory ]

- There is still little work in this direction. The paper has been cited 18 times, and the main instrument categories were either remote IR detection because the microscope methods were destructive, or resorting to combined electron microscope and chemical analysis.

- In no case, including the presented paper, were optical microscopy on samples as-is suggested as feasible or even used. One reason was because microscopes need concentration of microbes (cultured or natural endoliths). Another is SEM was main instrument (and still rather large instruments).

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