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Carbon isotope signature detected in Curiosity data suggests possible ancient life, or not

The uncertainty of science: In reviewing data from Curiosity, scientists have detected a faint enrichment on ridge tops in Gale Crater of the carbon isotope carbon-12, normally associated with life on Earth because it is easier for life to process than the heavier carbon-13 isotope.

In order to explain this enrichment, the scientists have concocted several complicated explanations, all of which seem unlikely because of their complexity. The explanations that include life require a series several precise steps to get the enrichment limited to only high ridges. Another that doesn’t involve life requires the solar system to pass through an interstellar cloud.

One proposed explanation is simpler however, and does not require ancient microbes or interstellar clouds.

More prosaically, a few studies suggest UV rays can generate the signal without help from biology at all. UV can react with carbon dioxide—which makes up 96% of the martian atmosphere—to produce carbon monoxide that is enriched in carbon-12. Yuichiro Ueno, a planetary scientist at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, says he has recently confirmed the process can occur in unpublished lab results. “The reported carbon isotope ratios are exactly what I have expected,” he says.

Though this explanation must explain why they have seen the enrichment only at high points, it is straight forward and fits all the present data we presently have of Mars

All in all, the data is tantalizing but hardly a indicator that Mars once had life. There is too much uncertainty. We do not yet know enough about Mars’ geological and climate history to come to any consensus on an explanation.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

One comment

  • Max

    The Z-man wrote;
    “One proposed explanation is simpler however, and does not require ancient microbes or interstellar clouds”

    Surprise surprise, a planet with an atmosphere of carbon dioxide has carbon in the soil.
    Carbon 12 more reactive than carbon 13… But no mention of carbon 14. Or that the surface of the planet being covered with meteorites with a high content of carbon material.
    Radiation stripping atoms from carbon dioxide to make carbon monoxide is a sure bet… just as the Martian dust is being ionized and given a static charge allowing it to react in strange ways with whatever substance it comes in contact with.

    Personally, I’m in the camp of the intergalactic space cloud. A supernova remnant engulfing our solar system, causing ice ages, and covering the outer moons, like Europa, with ice. (Think of the flood of “Noah’s ark” and replace the liquid water with frozen water… there is abundant evidence for the world being covered in water “that is frozen”, when hydrogen rich elements entered our atmosphere, collapsing it, and blocking the sunlight while adding a documented 400 feet to the ocean levels)
    I look forward to the deep ice core samples on Europa, and the Martian ice caps to verify the preserved isotopes of such events.

    From a link in the article;

    “4. Conclusions
    [17] Here, we demonstrated that an encounter of Earth with an average density GMC (330–103 H atoms/cm3), would produce a significant climate impact causing moderate (ice-line at 50–60° latitude) glaciations. At least 2 times in the last 2 Gyr of the Earth’s history, the solar system passed through GMCs with densities >2.2 × 103 atoms/cm3. Such encounters would result in more than −9.3 W/m2 change of the solar radiation at the tropopause level, which would last for as long as 200,000 years. Events of this magnitude would most likely result in snowball glaciations.”

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