back to article Self-imposed climate change may have killed Martian life

Microbial life may have flourished on early Mars but those early Martians may have been the cause of potentially life-ending climate change on the Red Planet. The early Martian atmosphere was most likely rich in carbon dioxide and hydrogen, and if the first microbes on Mars behaved like those on early Earth, gulping CO2 and H2 …

  1. karlkarl Silver badge

    Heh, only a dumb bacteria would make that mistake!

  2. heyrick Silver badge

    I'm only writing this comment because it bugs the hell out of me to see "1 comments". It's not exactly challenging to put some code in to drop the plural 's' (or pull in a different message, whatever) if something is in the singular...

    1. hayzoos

      Absolutely, it's not that hard to find a library which has the apprpriate function. Do you mind if there are thousands of other irrelevant functions that come along?

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        You don't need a library, inline code would easily do it. PRINT ;n;" comment";LEFT$("s",n<>1) has worked for me for over 40 years. Whatever code generates this site's content would have a similarly simple method.

    2. Sudosu

      I agrees with yas.

  3. heyrick Silver badge

    If would be quite a find to have evidence to back up this theory. Finally we can then move away from this bizarre mindset that we are somehow "special" and the entire rest of the universe is completely devoid of life.

    I bet there's actually huge amounts of life out there (mostly microbial or plants and bugs), but the distances involved mean we (as in our species) will probably never meet anything from another world.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      ...we (as in our species) will probably never meet anything from another world.

      It's worth looking at how things have gone on our planet when a new species (Columbus etc) arrives in a new area ... Measles was not a problem for Columbus but virtually eliminated all the islanders and many tribes in the Americas. So it's probably best if we just learn to deal with our worlds climate.

      1. Helcat

        "Measles was not a problem for Columbus but virtually eliminated all the islanders and many tribes in the Americas"

        Same species. The more divergence between species, the less risk of a virus jumping between them.

        Not impossible, just less likely, even if it made for an interesting solution to Mr Well's story about a Martian Invasion.

      2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        The biggest killer was smallpox (up to 50% mortality) not measles.

        But the diseases we brought were, in the main, exquisitely adapted for human hosts. We are not going to run into an alien organism selected for the quirks of the human the immune system. We don't even know if they'll be RNA/DNA or, if they are, whether they'll use the molecules in a way that's compatible with life on earth. And the same works in reverse.

        If there is life there, it's living in rocks and soils, not in fleshy things, and in conditions rare on earth. So it seems likely any pathogen, even if accidentally fatal, won't be able to spread effectively - again, in either direction. Indeed, there are millions of species of soil microbes on earth, most of which are poorly studied, and many of which can't live without other species of soil microbes, few of which are pathogenic to anything.

        Precautions will have to be taken. (All space probes are sterilised to prevent unintended visitors hitching a ride and taking root. Although I wonder whether standards will be adhered to as space travel becomes widespread and commercialised.) But there won't be a repeat of what we saw when the largely disease-free New World came into contact with the disease-riddled Old World. The worst case would be something like an invasive species where one planet's lifeforms out-competes another; H.G. Well's red weed taking over.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          "All space probes are sterilised to prevent unintended visitors hitching a ride and taking root."

          I bet the first lifeform we'll find on Mars will be a tardigrade.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      I agree on the "life is probably everywhere". Even with the idea of intelligent design, why would a god NOT create life on multiple planets?

      I do have some trouble with their assumptions, an H2 + CO2 atmosphere. Earth had a high CO2 atmosphere early on, which most likely favored plant life until the CO2 was consumed (this was CO2 from volcanic activity).

      Atmospheric gasses usually accumulate because of volcanos. Gasses and compounds formed in the mantle end up in the atmosphere. Earth's atmosphere is ALSO being sustained this way, as I understand it.

      Elements exist in a predictble percentage based on isotopes and so you can expect x% nitrogen, y% oxygen, etc. whether as compounds or as elemental gasses. Example, Jupiter has a lot of ammonia (all that nitrogen) and H2+He in "solar proportions" due to its near sun-like gravity, as well as some water and maybe ice at the core, whereas earth has N2 gas and lots of water and probably lost most of the H2 and He from the relatively low gravity and solar winds. Oxygen will quickly form water from hydrogen, depleting the remaining atmospheric hydrogen and raining onto the surface, and so CO2 + H2 without even N2 (let alone O2) on a smaller planet like Mars seems very strange to me...

      Additionally lighter gasses tend to get blown off by solar winds, especially when a planet's magnetic field gets weak. Mars has little or no volcanic activity and a nearly solid core that generates little or no magnetic field. It is smaller than earth and farther away from the sun, and that is probably why. So solar wind would eventually strip away everything lighter than CO2, leaving CO2 behind. That is what we see now. CO2 is one of the heavier gasses in the atmosphere and that is why you still find it n Mars.

      If Mars had an atmosphere more like Earth's (O2 N2 H2O etc) with the same CO2 partial pressure as it has now, it would be VERY earth-like. I ran the numbers once on this just to be sure.

      So although this model is interesting (somewhat), it has (as far as I can tell) NO evidence that it actually happened. So no biological climate change for Mars, either.

  4. EmilPer.

    almost twice as far as Earth from the Sun

    and certainly Mars being almost twice as far from the Sun as Earth is did not help at all

    there is no need for extraordinary claims about planetary warming/cooling ...

    1. HighHair

      Re: almost twice as far as Earth from the Sun

      Correct. ...and Mars having a gravity 38% of Earths is also another reason why it doesn't have much of an atmosphere.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Little Mouse Silver badge

        Re: almost twice as far as Earth from the Sun

        Agreed - This story does smack of shoehorning the Anthropogenic Climate Change narrative into a situation that can be readily and better explained with known parameters.

        Climate Change is real - even sceptical ol' me can accept that, but making it the de facto angle for every single science article is getting a bit tired. And if you have to blame aliens to give your theory any weight, you've got to wonder if maybe you're approaching the science from the wrong angle.

        1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

          Re: almost twice as far as Earth from the Sun

          Sit yourself down in front of Prof. Brian Cox's "The Planets" - he makes the point that some time ago Mars had liquid water on the surface when Earth did not, despite being further away. And yes, this was due to the difference in their respective atmospheres, which have changed over time, as stated in the article.

          So you might not like it but "climate change" is absolutely the correct term here. Anthropogenic, however, it assuredly is not.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: almost twice as far as Earth from the Sun

            it's not "climate change" but *loss of atmosphere*, which is totally different thing and has nothing to do with "climate change" as it's commonly used.

            Using catchphrases wrong is the whole meaning of this "research".

  5. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Kickstart terraforming

    So, all that's needed is to re-instate a planetary magnetic field? Scatter loads of automatous magnetic field generators across the planet, get Quaid to switch them on.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Kickstart terraforming

      Nah, just need to get the core rotating.1 Send Hillary Swank and her team in to give it a bit of a stir.

      1It was once thought that the core of Mars had solidified, but current consensus seems to be that it's still liquid.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge

        Re: Kickstart terraforming

        yeah "liquid" but the same way as melting ice or even glass, as I understand it. behaves more like solid or cold molasses.

        But yeah you'd need to nuke the CRAP out of Mars' core to get it making magnetic fields again

        1. cray74

          Re: Kickstart terraforming

          A planetary magnetic field won't add much to Martian terraforming. Mars' escape velocity is high enough to retain an Earth-like atmosphere for 100 million+ years without the magnetic field, and an Earth-like atmosphere is a robust radiation shield of it own. Earth's atmosphere is equivalent to some ten meters of rock shielding.

  6. TVU

    This "could have" research is all very well but the cooling of the small core due to Mars' small mass (only 1/9th that of Earth) led to both the loss both of the protective planetary magnetosphere and loss of the replenishment of atmospheric gases from the decline in large scale volcanic activity. That is perhaps the better explanation for Mars' current situation.

    Incidentally, Mars' Mariner Valley is often compared with the Grand Canyon but the better comparison is with Africa's Rift Valley and Mars had the almost beginnings of plate tectonics but its small mass counted against it.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      good analysis

  7. lglethal Silver badge

    Just curious

    Assuming this theory holds some water - If these microbes had not replaced all of the Hydrogen and cooled the planet that way, would the existing heat (from the Hydrogen atmosphere) been enough to maintain a liquid core (and hence a magnetosphere)? Or was that solidifying process already under way and this merely sped up the process?

    1. David Hicklin Bronze badge

      Re: Just curious

      That sounds like an error in the text - the atmosphere would have had little effect on the core temperature

  8. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

    The Invaders arrived and drank and fed; .....From that moment - they were doomed!

    Directly the microscopic allies arrived and drank and fed. From that moment - they were doomed!

    Fixed that for you Mr Wayne & Wells, No Charge, ULA!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    These guys are nuts

    "The planet's core cooled because of carbon-hungry microbes that stripped the planet of its greenhouse gas blanket."

    Good joke which is literally based on nothing at all. Also we do *know* why it doesn't have an atmosphere: No magnetosphere *and* a gravity only a third of Earth's.

    Which means solar wind blows it into space very, very fast.

    Obviously climatologists have skipped both as irrelevant and rely only to their numerical models. If someone doesn't know what numerical model is, I can summarize: It's personal opinion added with some selected numbers. No more, no less. Engineers use numerical models a lot when designing pipings in the factories and they mostly work for that use. Trying to use one to predict tens of millions of years is absolute bonkers.

    Just shows how you get proper bullshit when you don't know *anything* outside of your expertise and assume whatever you want to justify publishing something. Proper pseudoscience from start to end.

    1. Wimboman

      Re: These guys are nuts

      Quite. Atmosphere has an effect on received solar radiation. No effect whatsoever on the planetary core, which is:

      1. Up to thousands of degrees hotter, and

      2, Isolated from the core by many kilometers of poorly conducting rocks.

      A major failure in analysis there. Ruins an otherwise passable article.

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