Look, I know that writers want people to read their stories. I know they use titles to catch the eye and the interest of a reader.
I do it. Sometimes I even way overinflate the title to a toungue-in-cheek post, just for the humor effect.
But I really think that CNN went over the top with this one.
Scientist: NASA found life on Mars– and killed it
Now I haven’t read the paper in question, so it’s entirely possible that this is what the scientist is hypothesizing.
Somehow, I doubt it.
Dirk Schulze-Makuch presented his theory in a paper delivered at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington.
The paper was released Sunday.
Further down we read:
The Viking experiments of the 1970s wouldn’t have noticed hydrogen peroxide-based life and, in fact, would have killed it by drowning and overheating the microbes, said Schulze-Makuch.
One Viking experiment seeking life on Mars poured water on soil. That would have essentially drowned hydrogen peroxide-based life, he said. And different experiment heated the soil to see if something would happen which would have baked Martian microbes.
“The problem was that they didn’t have any clue about the environment on Mars at that time,” Schulze-Makuch said. “This kind of adaptation makes sense from a biochemical viewpoint.”
Even Earth has something somewhat related. He points to an Earth bug called the bombardier beetle that produces a boiling-hot spray that is 25 percent hydrogen peroxide as a defense weapon.
Schulze-Makuch acknowledges he can’t prove that Martian microbes exist, but given the Martian environment and how evolution works, “it makes sense.”
I checked over at BadAstronomy, since Dr. BA is at that meeting as we speak (click the link for his very cool report on Dark Matter), and even posted a comment asking if he’d heard the talk. I haven’t heard back yet, but I gather from the rest of the article on CNN that Dr. Schulze-Makuch is actually hypothesizing that it’s possible that microbial life on Mars might be based on H2O2 and that if that’s the case and if the Viking landers scooped up some of that life, then they would not have recognized it, and would have destroyed it during the tests they performed.
Notice all the ifs and maybes and possibles.
To read the CNN headline, you’d think NASA sent a nuke up and wiped out an alien invasion force or something.
I don’t know about you, but I think that’s just lazy journalism. With a little bit of effort on the reporter’s part, the story would be an interesting read all by itself without the sensational headline.
For a better written story, head on over to PhysOrg.com, for their take on it.