Mars life conclusions are premature

By From page A12 | March 29, 2013

I don’t know how The Enterprise editorial staff reached the conclusions stated in the “Our View” column of March 26: “No little green men, but plenty of life,” “Rover finds proof that Mars likely once supported life” and “the Red Planet once supported life.”

The official NASA news release on the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity’s latest discoveries says nothing this dramatic: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/news/whatsnew/index.cfm?FuseAction=ShowNews&NewsID=1438.

In reality, Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, announced, “A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment. From what we know now, the answer is yes.”

In short, what Curiosity has revealed is that all the right elements and conditions to support life were present on Mars 3 billion years ago. However, unlike the conclusion-leaping Enterprise editors, NASA scientists understand that evidence of a life-nurturing environment is a far cry from demonstrating even fossil evidence for microbial life on Mars at this point.

It’s akin to walking into a completely furnished model home. Just because the Realtor outfitted it with every creature comfort in an effort to sell the product, that doesn’t mean that anyone lives there. Someone may have dwelt there in the past, but only more research could prove that.

If and when a future explorer, robotic or human, returns proof of past or present extraterrestrial life on our ruddy round neighbor, the news will warrant headlines of epic proportions because the event surely will be one of the greatest in history.

Until that momentous day, editorial writers should exercise care and restraint in reporting and interpreting scientific findings. You don’t want to be branded as “the boy who cried ‘ET.’ ”

David Takemoto-Weerts

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