Martian bacteria
Tue, 20 Aug 1996 08:57:28 -0400

I wanted to wait until I read the articles before saying anything
about this. Now that I've read them I'm surprised at the reaction everyone
has had to the news. Frankly the findings look "iffy" in the extreme.
There were several scientists who expressed their doubts that the
findings indicated life.
All the chemical findings were things that could be produced by
non-biological means.
So far as I've been able to determine there were no actual cellular
structures discerned in the microfossils. They are essentially just holes
in the meteorite.
The possibility of contamination by Earth bacteria was addressed
reasonably well but many still expressed doubts about that possibility
really being eliminated.

Glenn Morton listed as his objections to the possibility that the
Martian bacteria might have been transplanted Earth bacteria: 1) The
"microfossils" are 100 times smaller than earth bacteria. 2) There should
have been a period of growth of the bacteria on Mars. Here are the
rebuttals: 1) Ricketsia are only about 3-20 times larger than the Martian
bacteria. There are likely to be even smaller microbes yet undiscovered.
Who knows what sort of tiny bacteria might have existed billions of years
ago. 2) I'm not sure that any period of growth was necessary but one of
the articles mentions that planetary scientists believe that Mars was
wetter and more hospitable billions of years ago.

Some have said that this may all be NASA's attempt to get some
funding. In fact there is an article in Science discussing the effects
these findings may have on funding. I don't want to be quite that cynical
but it seems as good a possibility as the possibility that ALH84001
actually has Martian bacterial microfossils.

The best summary of the entire issue may have been made by Mark
Twain over 100 years ago: "Science is such a wonderful thing. You get such
wholesale returns of conjecture for such a trifling investment in fact."

Mike Jaqua
7245 Balfour Drive
Kalamazoo, MI 49024
(616) 327-6570 <---(New e-mail address. Old one still works. This new
one may change again in the next few months.
Eventually it will replace the old address.)