Poison Water Detected on Mars
Mars mania has struck again, with the latest announcement that a “lake” of water may exist under the red planet’s polar ice cap.
NASA is titillating the public again with the “water = life” myth (9 June 2018). Even though the official NASA/JPL statement is cautious, it repeats the “follow the water” motto to perpetuate the notion that water has the “potential to support life.” Predictably, the media salivated like Pavlov’s dogs as they hallucinated about water transmogrifying into Martians. Here are examples of the hydrobioscopy leap made by secular reporters:
Liquid water discovered on Mars (Astrobiology Magazine). “Planetary scientists have been embarked on a quest to find liquid water on the red planet, because life as we know it cannot survive without water to act as a solvent in its biochemistry,” Keith Cooper writes. “…This new discovery suggests that there had always been liquid water on Mars, but we had been looking in the wrong place.”
Mars shocker: Liquid water lake found on the Red Planet (Fox News). Chris Ciacca dreams, “Scientists have uncovered ‘a stable body of liquid water’ on Mars, in what some are calling a ‘game changer’ in the search for alien life.” In her TV spot on Special Report, Fox News correspondent Kristin Fisher swallowed the life angle hook, line and sinker, saying with bright eyes, “and that would be a game changer in the search for life on Mars, because it’s long been believed that where there is water, there is life.” She did, however, explain that scientists only “found” this lake of water indirectly by analyzing bounced radar waves off the surface from orbit.
Liquid water is buried beneath Martian landscape, study says (Phys.org). “A massive underground lake has been detected for the first time on Mars, raising hopes that more water—and maybe even life—exists there, international astronomers said Wednesday.”
Liquid water ‘lake’ revealed on Mars (BBC News). Although reporter Mary Halton mentions some of the negatives, she lets astrobiologist Manish Patel go unchallenged on the hydrobioscopy soap box:
This principle of following the water is key to astrobiology – the study of potential life beyond Earth.
So while the findings suggest water is present, they don’t confirm anything further.
“We are not closer to actually detecting life,” Dr Patel told BBC News, “but what this finding does is give us the location of where to look on Mars. It is like a treasure map – except in this case, there will be lots of ‘X’s marking the spots.“
There’s water on Mars! Signs of buried lake tantalize scientists (Nature). This short article uses the L-word life 6 times, 3 times in opening paragraphs.
“It’s a very promising place to look for life on Mars,” says Roberto Orosei, a planetary scientist at the National Institute of Astrophysics in Bologna, Italy. “But we do not know for sure if it is inhabited.” On Earth, similar ‘subglacial’ lakes are home to microbial life.
Detecting water at Mars is a significant piece of news, but what if the lake is poisoned? Readers find out below the fold (after the headline has done its fake-science dirty work) that dissolved salts in the water would probably kill any microbes NASA hopes for. In the BBC article, Dr Claire Cousins describes the water as “an extremely cold, concentrated brine, which would be pretty challenging for life.” Earth microbes would probably perish in the soup. In the Phys.org article, Fred Watson notes, “Caution needs to be exercised, however, as the concentration of salts needed to keep the water liquid could be fatal for any microbial life similar to Earth’s.” Keith Cooper in the Astrobiology Magazine article describes it as “a brine saturated with perchlorate salts that lower the freezing point of water,” otherwise it could not survive as a liquid at Martian temperatures. Perchlorates—highly toxic to cells—were discovered on Mars in 2008 and are likely widespread on Mars. Even Wikipedia remarks, “With concentrations approaching .5% and exceeding toxic levels on Martian soil, Martian perchlorates would present a serious challenge to human settlement.” So much for habitability on Mars.
the origin of life could not have occurred in water. —Origin
Bringing Sense Back to the Media
Despite these facts, many reporters in the media continue to milk NASA’s suggestive evolutionary tidbits for all they’re worth. In a short video on the BBC News, for instance, Victoria Gill reviews four “key moments in the search” for life on Mars. Each one individually, however, provides no evidence. Collectively, they can do no better:
- The Viking Missions in 1976. These spacecraft were sent for the express purpose of testing for microbial life in Martian soil. They “didn’t find evidence for even the simplest organic molecule,” let alone life, but “some” astrobiologists hold out hope that the tests might have “missed” something. To this day, “there is no accepted evidence for the existence of microbial life on Mars.”
The Martian meteorite in 1996. The rock that launched the science of astrobiology generated “huge initial excitement” at the suggestion the rocks found in Antarctica contained evidence of bacterial fossils. But after two years of research, “those initial lines of evidence melted away.”
- Methane. In the early 2000’s methane was detected in the Martian atmosphere. Since “most” methane on Earth is generated biologically, some think Martian methane might be biological as well. But there are known abiological processes like serpentinization that can produce methane, the simplest hydrocarbon (CH4). Abiotic methane is prevalent in the atmosphere of Titan and is found in the atmospheres of the gas giants.
- The great salt lake. Now, in 2018, there is evidence of a salty lake under the polar ice cap on Mars. But—as in the three prior “key moments” in the search for life—it is not evidence for life. In fact, the toxic water they infer should be used as evidence against life.
12-Mile-Wide Lake May Be Hiding Beneath Martian Surface (Live Science). Surprisingly, Live Science – usually among the worst offenders for spreading the “water = life” myth – took precautions not to mislead its readers this time. Perhaps that’s because they sought the opinion of Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada, among the more level-headed of planetary scientists. “It’s always exciting when you talk about liquid water on present-day Mars,” Vasavada commented; “It’s exciting because of any implications it might have for the habitability of Mars.” This is true; it is exciting scientifically, and the reporters surely were excited, but ‘habitability’ is a far cry from ‘inhabited.’ You could have a habitat with nobody home. Later, Vasavada was more specific about why nobody is likely home on Mars:
[heading] Life means water, but water doesn’t mean life
If future studies confirm that the mysterious layer below the ice is indeed water, scientists will have a host of further questions to tackle about the reservoir before they can make any predictions about what the discovery means for the possibility of life on Mars.
“If you do have liquid water and you consider its relevance to life, then you also have to go beyond just the fact that it’s liquid and ask the temperature that it’s at and whether it’s able to be used by life,” Vasavada said. “Not all liquid water is equal in terms of life’s ability to use it.” In particular, he pointed to the high salt content that would be needed to keep water liquid at such low temperatures. This level might overwhelm even the most salt-loving life-forms, he suggested.
CEH reported as far back as 2002 that salt destroys the molecules life requires (e.g., 23 Nov 2007). Biochemists also know that water is not necessarily helpful for any of the proposed ‘building blocks of life.’ Polypeptides that make up proteins fall apart in water, because the peptide bond reaction that links amino acids together is hydrophobic, giving off a water molecule. Water molecules attack existing peptide bonds; that’s why chicken meat liquefies in a bowl of water. Similar thermodynamics affect polynucleotides, the building blocks of DNA and RNA. Timothy Standish explains in the film Origin :
That means molecules that are not used by living things and actually are harmful to living things. The conditions on the early Earth are hostile to life. They’re hostile to the formation of the kinds of bonds that are necessary to make biological molecules. And that’s where a huge problem developed… because water breaks the bonds that hold together proteins. Water breaks the bonds that hold together nucleic acids like DNA. Water breaks the bonds that hold together polysaccharides like starch and cellulose. So, the origin of life could not have occurred in water.
Radio host Bob Enyart has put together a web page describing the problems with water for the origin of life. Biochemists who work with actual molecules of life know these things. That they would allow NASA to continue titillating the public with unscientific notions is inexcusable. It illustrates bad media as well as bad science.
The L-word life is much sexier than the D-word dust. Would the press get as excited to learn that most of the dust on Mars comes from a single formation near the equator, as a press release from Johns Hopkins University says? Would they rush to their laptops to tweet that the dust is enriched in sodium and chlorine?
Underneath the hype is the presumption—not lost on reporters and the public—that life is an automatic extension of unguided physics and chemistry. Are there any reporters who would infer intelligent design if life were ever found on Mars? Hardly; and yet they would surely be offended if ET found the Curiosity rover (a far, far less complex machine than a cell) and phoned home that it must have emerged by chance from iron and the ‘building blocks of rovers’ in the Martian dust.
The indoctrination will continue until attitudes improve.