José Rodríguez S

Bogotá, Colombia, 21/I/2020

A robotic mission heads to Mars since July 30/2020 and continues its 7-month-long journey and is expected to end happily in February. Its task is to elucidate if there are traces of past life on Mars.

Make your forecast: Will traces of past life be found on Mars?

Representing those who think not, I forward myself. My reason is very simple: life is so complicated, so extremely complicated, that all Science has not been able to recreate it so far. Thirty years ago it was claimed that we were about to make a dragonfly, but today the crude realism of complexity puts a warning to so much effort. In fact, just assembling the natural or modified DNA of a bacterium has already been titanic. And if Science has not been able to recreate life, what can I expect from non-science?

On behalf of those who think that there is life on Marz, I invite you to remember with reverence the Dominican monk Giordano Bruno. He was burned by the Roman Inquisition 421 years ago because they believed that they had the obligation to defend God. The following demand was made to a pagan god, it was referred to in the Old Testament, and it frees us from burning someone again: If God is God, let him defend himself. Well, what was it that made them so angry? Giordano Bruno proved early on to be a terrifying and permanently troublesome and studious thinker. So much so that he came to write as a teacher of occultism. Furthermore, he took from the Protestants to abstain from the cult of Mary, the mother of Jesus. From Copernicus' theory he took the idea that the Earth revolved around the sun, but not that the sun was the center of everything. That is to say, the teaching of Ptolemy and that was zealously adopted by the Church, that the Earth was the center of the Universe, was rendered meaningless. And being an atomistic materialistic pantheist, he could not grant Jesus any special rights.

His thinking about the cosmos has been both a guide and a challenge for Science. We can dare to restore it as follows:

We see with the naked eye that the sun and the moon are large bodies. Aren't those other bodies that move at high apparent speed that are called planets the same? Are not the stars, too distant to detect their movement, suns with their court of planets revolving around them and with the same possibilities of the Earth to contain life in a great variety? Does the Earth have something special in the vastness of the cosmos? And in case you are not able to think it for yourself, do the inhabitants of this Earth, living or dead, have any impact on the vastness of the Universe? However, so much majesty of a starry night speaks of God, of a God greater than infinity and who lives in every heart.

The Roman Inquisition fully got the message and must have deduced that Jesus the Son of God was deprived of his universal significance. Heresy in sight as well as other more direct ones. He was burned at the age of 52 in Rome in Campo de’ Fiori, alive and conscious, on the morning of February 17/1600 after having endured some 7 years of imprisonment with the corresponding deterrent torture. But he stood firm, determined.

The ideas of Giordano Bruno have been slowly studied. Astronomers like Galileo and Simon Marius inaugurated the saga: with their telescopes they showed that the Universe was really large, that the planets were large bodies, and that Jupiter and its moons were small planetary systems. They saw the 4 major moons in 1610 and more than 70 have been added to the list. The idea that stars were suns was becoming strong. But finding planets around them was a bit more complicated. The following prediction in this regard could eventually be verified by amateur astronomers with a lot of patience: if the stars are suns with planets revolving around them, the intensity of the light that reaches us should decrease when the planets eclipse their sun. Hence, we must record a periodic variation in the intensity of light. Of course, other options must be ruled out. On the other hand, seeing the planets directly has also been possible, but it is something too specialized because it is like discerning in the distance the light of a match placed next to a powerful lighting tower. Appropriate darkening techniques inherited and refined from the study of the solar corona are used. A complete study might demand a group with more than 50 persons.  

On the other hand, another important prediction has failed, but it is still being studied: as the Earth has nothing special, the intelligent life that it contains cannot have anything strange and therefore it must swarm through the Universe. Therefore, from the sky must come countless electromagnetic signals with intelligible messages. The experimental result is nothing at all. And not for laziness: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (
SETI) is a program that has earned the respect of all.

A less strong prediction, that life must abound throughout the Universe, has also received much attention. In particular, life has been searched for assiduously in our solar system. The Galileo space probe, sent in 1990, detected life on Earth.

Other than that, nothing so far, but some molecules still give hope. A lot of attention has been paid to Mars. But NASA no longer believes that there is life there in the present, although it did at some point: in 1976 NASA's Viking 1 gave an affirmative answer to the question of whether there was life on Mars at that time, but the following week it sent a refutation. Since then, negativity has prevailed over the uncertainty.

However, NASA has found reasons to suspect that there was previously water on the Martian surface and that therefore there may have been life in the past. It is to try to confirm it that NASA sent the robotic mission that will land on February 18, in memoriam of the sacrifice of Giordano Bruno.

Dinosaurs or the like are not expected. It happens that the conditions on Mars are extreme by our standards: high dryness, extreme cold, high radiation, very low atmospheric pressure, little oxygen, a lot of CO₂. But the Earth has many microorganisms very well adapted to such circumstances. Based on their study, fossils of microorganisms are expected that could have captured carbon directly from CO₂, extracted iron and sulfur from pyrite (iron sulfide), and that could have taken advantage of energy gradients in mineral or clay substrates.

Still, no result seems to be convincing enough for skeptics who like to put forward rather elaborated reasons.

What will be found? I say that there has been no life on Mars. And you?

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