Earth Arctic Is Not Like Enceladus
NASA commits its most common logical fallacy in a
press release geared to titillate the public about astrobiology
‘I found dirty water. It looks like bathwater. There must be a baby in it!’ Would this make any sense? How about this syllogism: ‘Skyscrapers have iron. Mars has iron. Conclusion: Mars has skyscrapers.’
How is this bad logic any different in NASA-JPL’s latest contention that Enceladus is like Earth? There is some scientific research involved; brave explorers searched under Arctic ice and found hydrothermal vents. Enceladus is thought to have hydrothermal vents too; they might be powering its geysers (although that hypothesis is by inference; nobody has seen them). Earth’s hydrothermal vents often have life. Conclusion: Enceladus must also have life!
In the study, the team outlines what they believe is happening beneath the seafloor to form this system, and the information could have important implications for the exploration of icy worlds like Enceladus. The vent system at Gakkel ridge appears similar in many ways to those predicted for Enceladus, and could be spontaneously synthesizing materials important for the origin of life on this and other ice-covered ocean worlds.
Volcanically hosted venting with indications of ultramafic influence at Aurora hydrothermal field on Gakkel Ridge (Nature Communications, 31 Oct 2022). This is the paper by the research team that went looking for hydrothermal vents under the Arctic. It’s good to know what’s down there, but what does that have to do with life at Enceladus? The non-sequitur here is about to burst! It’s raising the perhapsimaybecouldness index sky high. Look at the zeal with which the scientists push their notion that water + heat = life.
Equally societally relevant, but from a quite distinct perspective, the discovery of ultramafic-influenced venting beneath the permanent ice-cover of the Arctic Ocean could have important implications for forthcoming space missions to explore for life beyond Earth. It has been hypothesized that ancient seafloor hydrothermal systems, with reducing H2-rich fluids, could have facilitated the abiotic synthesis of key prebiotic organic molecules from inorganic carbon and, hence, have played an important role in the origin of life.
Oh, but there are alternative ideas. Like intelligent design? Not even on the table for consideration!
Of course, the primary competing “Warm Pond” hypothesis for the origin of life on Earth is much longer-established but the submarine vent hypothesis has received significant recent impetus with our demonstration that de novo abiotic organic synthesis can and does occur in a modern-day ultramafic-hosted, H2-rich hydrothermal system at the Von Damm hydrothermal field on the Mid-Cayman Rise. This is important because contemporaneous work from the US National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA)’s Cassini mission has revealed evidence for submarine venting on Saturn’s moon Enceladus and, further, that high concentrations of H2 and CH4 may be present in Enceladus’ plumes because its seafloor vents are also ultramafic-hosted. Taken together, these discoveries are profound—they imply that the oceans on Enceladus could be habitable for microbial life and, potentially, inhabited.
Now, the motive for the hype comes to light:
The recently-released National Academies’ report Origins, Worlds and Life includes a specific recommendation that NASA should initiate a new mission to search for life on Enceladus within the coming decade. If our hypothesis is correct, and Aurora is an ultramafic-influenced system similar to Von Damm, this CH4-rich (and, potentially, H2-rich) hydrothermal field at the base of an ice-covered ocean, could provide an ideal natural laboratory for future research that helps guide such a civilization-impacting endeavor.
In short, it’s funding time at NASA.
Surprise finding at Arctic vent site could help in the search for extraterrestrial life (Space.com, 20 Nov 2022). The groupies at Space.com, incapable of logical or independent reasoning, fall right in line with the Big Science Non-Sequitur. The Aurora vent under the Arctic has life. The only possible notion is that Enceladus does, too! Imagine the possibilities!
At Aurora, German’s team used a high-resolution sonar instrument and cameras pointed down to capture images and live video feeds of the vent site. Among other features, scientists spotted formations called stalagmite-like hydrothermal chimneys rising into the waters at Aurora. The pale “blobs” on the tips of a few of them mark microbial life — the same kind of life that could exist deep in the ocean of Enceladus.
Using the word “life” 14 times in this short article, author Sharmila Kuthunur turns on her magical thinking cap to explain how easy it is to get life:
Despite the scalding temperatures, regions around hydrothermal vents are thought to be one of the places where early microbial life on Earth materialized.
Life? No problem. It just materializes.
Enceladus, flush with millions of dollars, here we come!
Fifteen scientists authored this paper, proving that one can be a smart scientist and still be dumb in some subjects. When I was at JPL working on the Cassini project, I saw this repeatedly. Interestingly, the project scientists did not talk about life so much when they met quarterly from across the country to discuss the latest findings from their instruments on the spacecraft. But put them in front of a group of reporters at a press conference, or on national TV, and the hype skyrocketed: ‘We’re learning about how life might have emerged and evolved! Isn’t that exciting?’
Stop falling for the titillation. It’s like getting high on a drug that makes you imagine fantasy worlds. Get sober and learn the facts about the origin of life. Watch the Discovery Institute’s Long Story Short series of videos on the origin of life (episodes 4-7). They’re corny in style but loaded with digestible information to immunize you against the imaginary worlds of the astrobiologists. Remember: astrobiology has no “bio” in it. The only life we know of is right here on planet Earth. Subtract “bio” from astrobiology, and what do you get? Pseudoscience!