“You don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.” -Edwin Louis Cole

Our Solar System is — at least from our perspective — the most well-studied system of planets, moons, asteroids and comets in the entire Universe.

Image credit: Olaf Frohn, from earlier in 2012.

And in this system, the closest planet to our Sun, Mercury, was also one of the most poorly understood planets until very recently. Because Mercury is so close to the Sun, it’s very difficult to view it under good conditions with a telescope; the risk of ruining your optics by exposing them to direct sunlight is tremendous! (Hubble has never imaged Mercury for exactly this reason.) You have to wait until after sunset, and even then, Mercury is so small and distant that ground-based telescopes can barely resolve features on it.

Image credit: Boston University / Baumgardner et al., 2000 (Astronomical Journal).

It was only in the early 1970s that we got our first good picture of the planet Mercury, thanks to the Mariner 10 spacecraft, which was the first NASA mission to visit the innermost world in our Solar System.

Image credit: NASA / JPL / Ted Stryk, 1974.

As we anticipated, Mercury bears a strong resemblance to our Moon: it’s a rocky, heavily cratered, atmosphere-less object in the inner Solar System. But one thing you may not realize about Mercury is that it also has another feature in common with the Earth’s Moon: unlike the Earth, it’s hardly tilted at all with respect to the Sun!

Image credit: Calvin J. Hamilton.

In fact, of all the planets in the Solar System, Mercury has the smallest axial tilt of every one! On Earth, our orbit is a nearly perfect circle around the Sun. Yes, it’s technically an ellipse, but when the Earth is farthest from the Sun, it’s really only 3.5% farther away than when it’s closest to the Sun. This is why our seasons are determined by our axial tilt — a significant 23° – rather than the eccentricity of our orbit. (In fact, Earth’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere corresponds to our closest approach to the Sun; the effect of axial tilt dominates by far!)

Image credit: Physical Geography; http://www.physicalgeography.net/fundamentals/6h.html.

But the opposite is true on Mercury; it’s actually the most eccentric planet in the Solar System, a full 52% farther away at aphelion than at perihelion! Because its axial tilt is virtually negligible — at 0.1° – it’s the ellipticity of Mercury’s orbit that determines the seasons on that world. So unlike the Earth, which has each of its poles see six months of daylight followed by six months of night, Mercury’s poles always have the Sun appear just at the horizon, on the border between night and day.

Image credit: AP Photo / NASA / JHU Applied Physics Lab./Carnegie Inst. of Washington.

You might be wondering about those shadows on the pole itself; this is actually a very similar story to the Moon. The Earth’s Moon is tilted at just 1.4° with respect to the Sun, meaning that the Sun’s rays are always grazing the poles of the Moon.

Because the Moon is heavily cratered, including at the poles, that means that the polar regions that have deep enough craters close enough to the pole itself will never be exposed to direct sunlight!

Image credit: NASA / GSFC / Arizona State University.

These regions of the Moon that live permanently in shadow are worse than the Thunderdome: two men enter, no man leaves. The reason the Moon has no atmosphere is because direct sunlight on the surface of the Moon is energetic enough to impart any atom or molecule it strikes with enough velocity to escape the Moon’s gravity. So the entire surface of the Moon is devoid of water molecules, hydrogen gas, oxygen, methane, ammonia, or nitrogen. It’s only the heavy rocky particles of the Moon’s outer surface that remain behind.

But inside a permanently shadowed crater, the temperature is somewhere around a cool 50 Kelvin, and once you fall in, you’re never coming out.

Image credit: NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA).

That includes materials from comets, asteroids, and anything else that lands on the surface of that world. And of course, comets and asteroids are loaded up with our favorite compounds: water, methane, and ammonia among them!

So it’s no surprise that we’ve found both water and organics (any molecule with a carbon bond in them) inside these permanently shadowed craters on the Moon. And it should come as no surprise that — with the advent of dual imaging from Messenger and the Arecibo Radio Observatory on Earth — both water and organics are found in the pits of these permanently shadowed craters on Mercury, too!

Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Carnegie Institution of Washington / National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, Arecibo Observatory.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great discovery! But it’s also a completely expected discovery; bigger news would have been if they hadn’t discovered water and organics in these permanently shadowed regions. As scientist Sean Solomon stated:

“For more than 20 years the jury has been deliberating on whether the planet closest to the Sun hosts abundant water ice in its permanently shadowed polar regions. MESSENGER has now supplied a unanimous affirmative verdict.”

This wouldn’t work on Venus or Jupiter, whose atmospheres would prevent permanently shadowed craters from harboring material indefinitely, but it does confirm what we thought, and allow us to make a convincing leap to other Solar Systems with some certainty!

Image credit: European Southern Observatory.

Around any star, any rocky planet with no atmosphere and a sufficiently small axial tilt should have permanently shadowed craters at its poles, which will contain ices and other frozen materials common to that Solar System. Finding this water and these organics in the permanently shadowed craters of Mercury isn’t a surprise; it’s exactly what this picture predicts. Unless you’re super-close to your parent star (and remember, folks, that Mercury is still over 50 million km from the Sun on average), that sunlight won’t be able to get in there and kick those particles out!

And that’s why there’s not only water on Mercury, there’s probably water on every Mercury- and Moon-like world out there!

Comments

  1. #1 daedalus2u
    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/
    November 30, 2012

    This discovery is near and dear to my heart because I have developed an electrostatic separator that can separate ice from regolith via contact charging.

    http://www.isruinfo.com/docs/srr12_ptmss/36-Concentration%20of%20Lunar%20Ice-Whitlock.pdf.zip

    It works by contact charging. When two materials contact, at the point of contact the electrons must have the same energy. To accomplish this, a potential is generated (the contact potential). In the field-free state, it takes a certain energy to remove electrons from the surface to infinity. This energy is called the Work Function. It is a characteristic property of materials. When two materials contact, in order to equalize the energy of the elections at the point of contact, the two materials exchange charge until the contact potential difference equals the difference in work function. When the materials move apart, the contact is broken, the charge cannot leak back and particles develop a charge characteristic of their composition. This is the charge that I use in my separator.

    I have demonstrated separating crystalline ice from ground basalt simulating lunar regolith (see above presentation for data). This was a trivial separation. That work was done more than 20 years ago, and the separator has since been commercialized on separating unburned carbon from flyash.

    We can process material at ~ 1 kwhr per ton processed. This is a few orders of magnitude (at least 2, more likely 3 or even 4, orders of magnitude) less energy than what would be required to heat the regolith plus ice hot enough to drive off all the water via evaporation. I estimate that a 50 kg machine would be able to process 5 tons per hours using 5 kw.

    This savings in energy is so much as to be enabling.

    If ice is to be recovered in these cold places, my separator will be used to do it.

  2. #2 OKThen
    How does water gets into asteroids?
    December 2, 2012

    Ethan
    Very nice explanation.

    But you haven’t explained why, “comets and asteroids are loaded up with our favorite compounds: water, methane, and ammonia among them!” Why?

    “we have proposed that asteroids incorporated during their formation icy particles formed in the outer Solar Nebula… In spite of the growing pool of evidence pointing towards the existence of water ice in the Main (asteoid) Belt, its detection on asteroids is a challenging observational problem.” arXiv:0710.5179

    So we don’t really know, we just have proposals of how the ice formed and then got incorporated into asteroids and comets and…

    My speculation is simply that you take hydrogen gas and oxygen gas (formed in some supernova) and a little spark (or maybe the right EM radiation in space) and voila you get a water molecule in space that then coallecses into a comet or asteroid and planets…. but…

    “The primordial Earth was a seething ball of magma, so the water that it began with would have evaporated into space. As a result, planetary scientists have long debated which of two types of objects, comets or asteroids, were more responsible for delivering Earth’s water. A new study, published today (12 Jul 2012) in Science, says that asteroids were the source.” http://blogs.nature.com/news/2012/07/study-says-asteroids-delivered-water-to-earth.html

    Any better explanation/ clarification of how does water gets into asteroids would be appreciated.

  3. #3 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Sverige
    December 2, 2012

    OKThen, great questions. But a little peek in Wikipedia would have answered them quickly, I’m sure. Anyway, here goes:

    The basic theory on water is based on observations of how volatiles are plenty, and besides giants or freshly supplied moons (Titan), are frozen in the outer system. Especially for water the radiation from the young Sun would have set up an “ice line” (aka “snow line”) in the protoplanetary disk.

    This would predict the mass content of water in asteroids, where the majority has ~ 10 % water by mass, and comets much more. It would also predict the dryness of terrestrials, who have ~ 0.05 % water by mass. (But see the tension with later models as described below, where the problem is to get rid of the water in the first place!)

    Luckily, or we would have no continents.

    Recently it has been suggested that the same would happen with carbon, a “soot line”. Carbonaceous chondrites have a lot of carbon, and it is predicted that superEarths accreting outside the soot line could have ~ 30 % carbon crust by mass.

    Luckily we don’t have that as it would set up an outer diamond crust and bar cells from necessary metals to make vital ribozymes or enzymes. Instead we have siliceous minerals.

    But, to finish this story, it is unlikely that asteroids and comets have supplied inner terrestrials with a dominant part of water. The hydrogen isotope D/H ratio of asteroids is ~ 2 times larger than Earth since they formed in a colder part of the disk. And comets are worse by many orders of magnitude.

    Instead the roughly same water content found in Earth, Moon and Mars initial mantle by various samples (zircons, Apollo samples, martian meteorites) can be predicted by a disk mechanism, as opposed to the differential rates suggested by impactor delivery. Recently such an innate mechanism was found. [ http://astrobites.com/2012/07/25/snow-lines-and-protoplanetary-disks-or-whered-all-the-water-go/ ]

    “Consistent with previous work, the turbulent model has the ice line crossing an AU just about a million years after disk formation – barely any time to form planets! By contrast, the model that includes a turbulence-free dead zone has an inner icy region and a central ice-free region. The latter is attributed to a small amount of turbulence due to self-gravity that heats the outer region of the dead zone.

    This is very exciting – after t~1 million years, there is a growing ice-free region right around the Earth’s orbit! This resolves the discrepancy of previous models, and provides ample time for an ice-free Earth to evolve. Further work will be necessary to validate this model. If it proves consistent, then we may have reconciled planet formation theory with the water-poor Earth: Regions of low turbulence in the protoplanetary disk allow formation of water-poor terrestrial planets.”

    On the other hand it is known _some_ late bombardment by asteroids was present, or we would have little to no rare earth metals in the crust.

    Note by the way from the figure in the link that Mercury, now at 0.3 – 0.4 au, could have been within the dynamic inner icy region most of its formation time. Water as from such a source in terrestrials comes from hydrogen and oxygen trapped in the mantle material, which are later released by volcanism and reconstituted as water sooner or later. Mercury should have a higher innate water content (by mass) than Earth has, and it may well be that some of the ice we now see has its source within rather than without.

  4. #4 Richard B. Hoover
    Huntsville, Alabama
    December 2, 2012

    Not all asteroids contain water. But there are “water-bearing” asteroids that contain large quantities of water ice and other frozen volatiles. Some get deflected into the inner regions of the Solar System. They are very black and due to this low albedo (~0.02 — similar to carbonaceous chondrites) they get very hot from solar heating when they come closer to the sun than Mars. The explosions of steam and other volatile gasses would propel particles of dust, water and ice out from the core and the solar wind would push it into a long tail in the anti-solar direction. If observed by humans they would say “look at the long tail on that beautiful COMET” not “look at the long tail on that comet-like asteroid.” Liquid water in these bodies would cause aqueous alteration of minerals such as we see on CI1 meteorites (Orgueil, Ivuna, etc. ) and the cubanite grains returned by Stardust from comet Wild 2. The periodic presence of sunlight and hot liquid water and cold liquid brines provide suitable conditions for the growth of filamentous Cyanobacteria within pools within the rocky and icy crusts of comets or water-bearing asteroids. This could explain the presence of the fossilized remains of recognizable cyanobacterial filaments that have been found embedded in the rock matrix of these meteorites. The low nitrogen levels in these filaments prove that they are not modern blue-green algae that invaded the stones after they landed on Earth. The presence of mmicrofossils in CI1 and CM2 meteorites combined with the valid detection of organics and water ice at the poles of Mercury, Mars, and the Moon as well as on comets and “water-bearing” asteroids implies that life is probably very widely distributed throughout the Cosmos.

  5. #5 OKThen
    The blue planet
    December 2, 2012

    Here I think I’m asking a sensible question that is not a in controversial area of astrophysics.

    So AT FIRST, I accept Torbjörn’s and Richard’s answers as reasonable. But I check and both answer’s turn out to be COMPLETE NONSENSE.

    Torbjörn’s link says, “However, in comparison to the gas giants, Earth is actually very water poor! The Earth is only 0.023% water by mass, while the outer solar system giants are as much as 40% water.” COMPLETE NONSENSE, the gas giants aren’t 40% water.

    “Jupiter’s upper atmosphere is composed of about 88–92% hydrogen and 8–12% helium by percent volume or fraction of gas molecules. ” wikipedia No water on the Jupiter gas giant.

    Torbjörn Larsson, NO THANKS!! But THANKS FOR THIS HEADS UP that you are selling COMPLETE NONSENSE.

    Then a check on Richard’s CI1 fossils turns out to be nonsense also.
    “CI1 fossils refer to alleged morphological evidence of microfossils found in five CI1 carbonaceous chondrite meteorite fall: Alais, Orgueil, Ivuna, Tonk and Revelstoke. The research was published in March 2011 in the Journal of Cosmology by Richard B. Hoover, an engineer. However, NASA distanced itself from Hoover’s claim and his lack of expert peer-reviews.” wikipedia

    Richard B. Hoover, NO THANKS!! But THANKS FOR THIS HEADS UP that you are selling COMPLETE NONSENSE.

    Well, there we have it.
    NONSENSE.

    WOW, must be on vacation because he would not let this stand for so long.

    WOW, we need your help. If I am almost suckered in by this psuedoscience; then others are falling for it too.

    “The origin of water on Earth, or the reason that there is clearly more water on the Earth than on the other planets of the Solar System, has not been clarified. There are several acknowledged theories as to how the world’s oceans were formed over the past 4.6 billion years.” wikipedia

    So my question stands.
    And on second thought, Ethan’s explanation is excellent even though it leaves some unanswered questions. I can wait a long time for a credible answer.

  6. #6 OKThen
    oops I forgot
    December 2, 2012

    ” The interior (of Jupiter) contains denser materials such that the distribution is roughly 71% hydrogen, 24% helium and 5% other elements by mass.” wikipedia

  7. #7 Richard B. Hoover
    Huntsville, Alabama
    December 2, 2012

    OKThen I suggest you should be careful about believing everything you read in Wikipedia.

    First, I am not an “Engineer”.
    I was once called an Engineer by Josef Boehm, of the Peenemunde Rocket Team and I accepted it as the very high compliment that he meant it to be. Others use the term as an insult, but they do not appreciate the knowledge and skill needed to be a fine Engineer. While I have designed and built advanced X-ray telescopes and microscopes, I have also used these instruments for studies of the Sun and Supernova remnants. My job descriptions at NASA were as an Astrophysicist and Astrobiologist — never as an Engineer.

    Second, you obviously never read any of my papers or you would know that I have studied many carbonaceous meteorites — but never examined Tonk or Revelstoke. Only one gram of Revelstoke was recovered, and I have never had the chance to examine this stone.

    Third, the paper in the Journal of Cosmology was Peer Reviewed by experts prior to acceptance for publication. It was also made available to a large number of other Scientists for Commentary, and their comments were published along with the paper. The statement that the paper was not peer-reviewed was simply incorrect. The reasons why some individuals at NASA chose to make such a false statement are still not clear.

    Fourth, the morphological evidence is not alleged. It is published in this paper and in many others for the entire world to examine. Your comment that this is “NONSENSE” tells me that you know nothing about Cyanobacteria. I first observed diatoms and Cyanobacteria under he microscope in 1952. I have conducted an intense study of micro algae with both optical and scanning electron microscopes since 1968. In collaboration with Dr. Elena Pikuta, I have discovered, described and validly published two new genera and twelve new species of bacteria from extreme environments. This is hardly the kind of science conducted by “an Engineer”.. I can assure you that both diatoms and filamentous Cyanobacteria can be recognized and classified on the basis of their morphology alone. The filaments that are shown in the JOC paper were examined not only by myself, but also by several of the world’s leading authorities on Cyanobacteria and trichomic sulfur bacteria.

    OKThen, I suggest you read my paper, rather than read what others have falsely claimed that it says. After you have read it, then I welcome any critical comments you may wish to make — but they should be based on solid science and not just name calling and other such nonsense. Also it would be nice if you would use your real name and state your own credentials in the fields of Astrobiology, meteoritics, micropaleontology and microbiology. Science should always be a search for the truth. I have published the data (both in high resolution FESEM images and Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy Elemental data) that I have found on micro structures that are truly in these stones. I have presented my evidence in scientific meetings and colloquia on seven continents. Similar filaments have been found by scientists in Russia, Canada, and the United Kingdom conducting independent electron microscope studies of CI1 and CM2 carbonaceous meteorites. Other scientists have also shown that these meteorites contain chiral amino acids, fatty acids, nuucleobases, pristane, phytane, vanadyl porphyrins and other life-critical biomolecules that are both indigenous and extraterrestrial in origin. These are solid indicators of life that provide independent evidence supporting the conclusion that these filaments are both biological in nature and indigenous to the meteorites —hence evidence of the existence of extraterrestrial life.

    Richard B. Hoover
    December 2, 2012

  8. #8 OKThen
    Journal of Cosmology charges $185 per published article
    December 3, 2012

    Richard B. Hoover

    You are correct. I know little about cyanobacteria. And based on the wikipedia entry about you; you do know something. And I am unqualified to evaluate your work. BUT…

    I am qualified to have an OPINION based on others who are qualified to judge the merit of your work.

    So yes, I do consider the opinion NASA’s Chief Scientists, magazines Nature, Science, Discover and others; in forming my opinion.

    Your hypothesis is NOT supported in the judgement of your peers at NASA, Nature, Science and as well your “claims were initially submitted to the International Journal of Astrobiology, which rejected the paper.” wikipedia.

    Trying to win your case amongst amateurs, here on this blog, is not good science.

    Furthermore, it is dishonest science to present your ideas to amateurs without acknowledging that you are the author; and that your theory is a highly disputed speculative scientific theory.

    Such a disclaimer is (in my opinion) a scientific necessity; even as an amateur I use appropriate disclaimers. (see my above). “My speculation is simply… Any better explanation/ clarification… would be appreciated.”

    I issue a disclaimer because I don’t want to mislead, nor do I want to win by popular argument; I want to learn and understand the science; therefore I am ready to be proven wrong.
    ARE YOU READY TO LEARN BY BEING PROVEN WRONG??

    So, if Richard B. Hoover,(your) interpretation about cyanobacteria in asteriods is correct; then your argument must be convince credible peers, not amateurs and not the tabloid press. And regardless of your credentials and personal belief in your ideas, THIS BLOG IS NOT THE PLACE TO ARGUE YOUR HIGHLY DISPUTED SPECULATIVE IDEA.

    Richard, you say, “I welcome any critical comments… they should be based on solid science and not just name calling.”
    If you believe this; then you should dissociate yourself from your publisher the Journal of Cosmology.

    You lose a great deal of scientific credibility by being associated with your publisher (the Journal of Cosmology). who on your behalf accussed , “NASA, and Science and Nature magazine.. (of having) dressed religion in the language of science… (of making) editorial and scientific decisions based on the Bible and the “Laws of Moses”.. (of being) lunatics (who)… throw filth upon the reputations of legitimate scientists.”
    http://daviddobbs.posterous.com/cosmology-journal-declares-war-won-enemies-ev

    So yes, in MY AMATEUR OPINION, your research conclusions are unsupported.
    Your “Pigasus Awards… from the James Randi Educational Foundation for the dubious honor of being among the 5 worst promoters of nonsense .. (for your) paper in the eccentric Journal of Cosmology” is well earned. Los Angelos Times, Apr 1, 2011

    “The Journal of Cosmology… (charges) $35.00 Article Processing Fee… (and) a $150.00 Publication Charge… Accepted articles will not be published until the publication fee is received.”

  9. #9 Wow
    December 3, 2012

    “Not all asteroids contain water. But there are “water-bearing” asteroids that contain large quantities of water ice and other frozen volatiles.”

    So where did this water come from?

    If it was just there in the outer system to form on these asteroids et al, then how did they know that they were accreting on an object that was still undergoing accretion to form a bigger asteroid?

    ” They are very black and due to this low albedo”

    Some will. Most I would suggest do not.

    But if they were, then this would indicate constituents from organic (or at least carbon-rich) sources.

    I think you’re a little confused.

  10. #10 Richard B. Hoover
    Huntsville, Alabama
    December 3, 2012

    OKTHen, maybe you failed to notice that I signed my real name to all of my comments. Since you are hiding behind OKThen, how could I know that you are “an amateur”. You make several statements based on Wikipedia that are also incorrect.

    First, I was invited to write this article and I paid nothing ($0.00) to the Journal for it to be published. I have never paid to have any article published in any publication.

    Second, this Journal of Cosmology article was never rejected by the Journal of Astrobiology. It was written for the JOC at the invitation of a Senior Editor and never previously submitted to any other Journal for consideration. I take responsibility for my own writings and actions, but have never apologized for the words or opinions of others. Perhaps you should also take a look at the scientific credentials of James Randi.

    I presented images and spectral data in the article and provided a scientific interpretation of these observations based upon my own knowledge and discussions with many of the world’sleading experts on Cyanobacteria. They are named in the acknowledgements of the paper. Aqain I suggest you read the paper yourself if you wish to know what the evidence really is. The paper is freely available online.

    Second, I said nothing about Cyanobacteria in asteroids. I have not examined asteroids. I have studied a large number of carbonaceous meteorites since 1997. Many of them contain embedded filaments, some of which exhibit both the size, size ranges and complex morphologies that are known in certain genera and species of Cyanobacteria that are well-known on Earth. That is an observation that is backed up by the high resolution images in a host of papers published in the peer reviewed articles and conference proceeding by me and several others well-known scientists. These findings are not disputed by my peers (scientists who actually have studied Cyanobacteria and who can classify them to genus and species). In this arena, the opinion of a particle physicist is just as irrelevant as would be that of a general microbiologist on a question of string theory or quantum chromodynamics unless they have also actually studied those fields.

    OKThen, Why don’t you read the article before you respond? You may change your opinion.

    To Wow, please note that water is the most common molecule in the Universe composed of two or more elements. Also, it is a scientific fact that the albedo of all of the carbonaceous chondrites known is very low. These are jet-black stones. It has also been discovered that the nuclei of all comets studied have an albedo that is very similar to that of the carbonaceous meteorites. This was a prediction of the late Sir Fred Hoyle, that has been confirmed by a large number of Space observations.

  11. #11 OKThen
    generally missing in "cargo cult science."
    December 3, 2012

    Richard Feyman advised, “There is one feature I notice that is generally missing in “cargo cult science.” It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty — a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it; other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked — to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.
    Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can — if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong — to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.
    In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.”

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/03/06/did-scientists-discover-bacter/ provides in my opinion a credibly reviews and provides links to other reviews of Richard B. Hoover’s (in my opinion) psuedoscience nonsense.

    I rather trust David Morrison, senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute at Ames Research Center who said, “Many scientists have examined thousands of meteorites in detail over the past 50 years without finding any evidence of fossil life. Further, we know a great deal about the conditions on the parent objects of the meteorites, which (not counting the few meteorites from the moon and Mars) were rather small, not at all like planets. I would therefore invoke Carl Sagan’s famous advice that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. At a bare minimum this would require publication in a prestigious peer-refereed scientific journal — which this is not. Cyanobacteria on a small airless world sounds like a joke. Perhaps the publication came out too soon; more appropriate would have been on April 1.”

  12. #12 Richard B. Hoover
    Huntsville, Alabama
    December 4, 2012

    David is correct in that we do know a great deal about the parent bodies of the CI1 and CM2 carbonaceous meteorites. The mineralogy reveals extensive aqueous alteration at very low temperatures — from 50 C to as low as -30 C. This proves the presence of liquid water and brines on these bodies, which were very probably cometary nuclei. Cyanobacteria live in liquid water and are present in thin films of water and ice in glaciers and rocks of the Earth’s polar regions. I have studied them in Alaska, Iceland, Patagonia, and the Patriot Hills, Thiel Mountains and Lake Untersee in Antarctica. And it is also not a joke that they do not require an atmosphere in order to live. We have also learned much about microorganisms that inhabit the extreme environments of Earth, Microbes live and grow and survive for millions of years in the ice and permafrost of the polar regions, so they as well as many other microbial extremophiles should also be able to survive in comets. David is also wrong in that there have been many publications providing evidence for the remains of Cyanobacteria and other microfossils in “prestigious peer-reviewed” publications such as Science and Nature over the past half century. Ignoring them or being ignorant of them does not make them go away. They are referenced in many of my papers and you would know this if you had ever bothered to read any of them. But iyou have already admitted you know nothing about cyanobacteria and it is obvious that you have no interest in learning about microbiology, micropaleontology or meteorites and the evidence for complex biomolecules and microfossils that has been found by me and many other scientists in some of these wonderful messengers from space. However, there may be others who read these words who may chose to examine the data with an open mind. The images and EDS data are in the papers published on many thousand of others as yet unpublished are on computer hard drives and the samples and several thousand microfossils are still embedded in the meteorites and remain in the labs at NASA and the Russian Academy of Science in Moscow where they can be examined by me and others in the future.

  13. #13 OKThen
    I've learned from this conversation, Thank you.
    December 4, 2012

    Richard
    It is obvious that you understand this subject very well.
    And you sound very reasonable.
    But as a science minded layman; your work does not pass my standard for credible science. And the standards of a professional scientist are higher.

    As a layman, here are a few of my concerns:
    1) Cyanobacteria, i.e. blue green algae are found everywhere on earth and have lived on earth for billions of years. So my first problem with your hypothesis of blue green algae living in space is a problem of contamination after the meteor lands on earth.
    2) In my opinion, the Journal of Cosmology is not a credible publication. They published your research paper; but it cannot be found on their web site. What can be found is an advertisement and link to buy your book for $49.95 from Amazon.
    3) In my opinion you do not heed Feynman’s advice to “lean.. over backwards.. (to) report everything that you think might make (your research) invalid”. You only tell what you think is correct about your research; you do not address the recognized problems with your hypothesis.
    4) You say, “it is obvious that (I) have no interest in learning about microbiology, micropaleontology or meteorites and the evidence .” You misunderstand my role as a layman and your role as a scientist. The curious layman’s role is to learn and to ask tough skeptical questions. But it is the scientists role to ask even tougher questions, to discover and to convince other scientists.
    5) If you are serious about the merit of your hypothesis; then you need more research, more careful findings, and answers to your scientist critics. None of this name calling that the Journal of Cosmology did about NASA, Nature and Science magazine.
    6) You need to republish online in arXiv which has a high enough peer review reputation and yet does publish some controversial papers.
    7)You need to engage scientist in your field. Perhaps these scientists.
    - Rethinking the Paleoproterozoic Great Oxidation Event: A Biological Perspective by John W. Grula 2012, arXiv:1203.6701
    - Hydrogen Greenhouse Planets Beyond the Habitable Zone by
    Raymond Pierrehumbert, Eric Gaidos 2012, arXiv:1105.0021
    - Transfer of Life-Bearing Meteorites from Earth to Other Planets by Tetsuya Hara, Kazuma Takagi, Daigo Kajiura, 2012, arXiv:1204.1719
    - Bacterial morphologies in carbonaceous meteorites and comet dust, by N. Chandra Wickramasinghe et al 2010, arXiv:1008.3860

    These papers are not necessarily correct; but they reflect a certain level of peer review and scientific integrity by being published in arXiv. As I am sure that you are aware, that the last paper by N. Chandra Wickramasinghe et al references your work.

    Convincing laymen is easy. Laymen believe in ghosts and alien abduction; cyanobacteria in comets or meteroites is easy for a layman to believe. The talk shows and the science blogs are not the place to convince the community of scientists.

    Right now scientists think the idea of “Cyanobacteria on a small airless world sounds like a joke.” How do you turn that scientific view around? NOT ON THIS BLOG.

    You need to engage scientists. If they won’t talk with you; then write research papers of the highest caliber. Be proud of your best ideas; but be honest about their merit or NOT.

    Be well, have a sense of humor and important people in your life. I’ve learned from this conversation, Thank you.

  14. #14 Wow
    December 4, 2012

    And remember, they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

    Skepticism means you’re skeptical OF YOUR OWN PROPOSITION.

    It’s piss easy to be skeptical of someone else’s work, but if they’re being skeptical of their own work you’re rather redundant in the picture.

  15. #15 Richard B. Hoover
    Huntsville, Alabama
    December 5, 2012

    OKThen,

    I am sorry but I do not think you have learned from the conversation. It is obvious that you have never read any of my papers concerning microfossils in meteorites, the first of which was co-authored with the late Sir Fred Hoyle and published in the Journal Earth, Moon, and Planets in 1986. If you had read the Journal of Cosmology paper, then you would know that the EDS spectral data published reveals very low levels of nitrogen in these filaments proving that they could not have invaded the meteorites after they landed on Earth. If you want to read the paper, I can provide a link where anyone can download it at no cost. I have no control over the Journal and am aware that their server crashed many times from people trying to download the paper. I receive no money from the sale of the book, so am not in any way trying to advance its sales. I am writing more papers about other filaments in other CI, CN and CO carbonaceous meteorites

    OKThen, I am afraid that as a layman, you simply do not understand the role of a scientist. I have been a professional scientist since I joined NASS in 1966 and have published over 250 scientific papers. The role of a scientist is to make careful observations the natural world and honestly present the evidence and provide his interpretation of what the data means. That is precisely what I have always done. Paradigm shifts are difficult and can take decades or even centuries to occur. Continental drift is just one example.

    You say “scientists think the idea of Cyanobacteria on a small airless world sounds like a joke.” That is not a “scientific view” it is an opinion. And I do not know any scientists who would state such an opinion, but if they did it would be based on ignorance. Cyanobacteriaia live in water, in glacial ice and in thin films of water between sand grains in rocks in the polar regions (cryptoendoliths). These microbes would have no problem living on a comet, icy moon such as Europa, Enceladus or some other type of a “small airless world.” However, if you had read my papers you would know that I do not advance a hypothesis of “blue green algae living in space.” I do not know what the parent bodies of these meteorites were, although I think comets make a very logical possibility for a number of reasons. These organisms were living on or in the parent body of these meteorites, which we know contained liquid water, minerals and a host of organic nutrients. An the evidence indicates they died and were fossilized long before the stoned arrived on Earth. You say I should engage scientists. Well, I have Chaired 35 International Scientific Conferences in the United States, Crete, and Russia. These meetings have been attended by scientists (including Nobel Laureates and Academicians) from all over the world. I do not know of any scientist who will not talk with me, and I have discussed these findings with several of the world’s greatest authorities on Cyanobacteria, micropaleontology, microbial extremophiles, comets and meteorites. If you read my JOC paper, you can find their names listed in the acknowledgements. I suggest you consider how naive it is to think that the Earth is the only place in the Universe capable of supporting life. There is nothing really unique about our beautiful pale blue dot. As the evidence from Mercury shows, water can be found almost everywhere. And the guiding principle of Astrobiology has always been “Follow The Water.”

    Richard B. Hoover

  16. #16 G
    December 5, 2012

    I’ll admit right up-front that I never expected water ice on Mercury, so this discovery comes as a very interesting and pleasant surprise.

    Torbjörn & OKThen: It’s more fun to speculate first and then look in Wikipedia or wherever. This way you get to find out if you’re drawing appropriate conclusions from your existing background knowledge, and if not, the corrective feedback is useful.

    I wrote the following paragraph after RH’s first comment, before reading the rest of the arguement between Richard & OKThen:

    Richard Hoover: Is your hypothesis widely shared among exobiologists? Could it be tested by a robotic mission to one of those objects, to attempt to find living cyanobacteria or fossils of same? How would bacteria have transferred to or evolved and survived on objects with conditions that vary so widely as they pass through space?

    After reading the arguement: It appears the whole thing about cyanobacteria is highly contentious, so I’ll probably remember this the next time I see anything on the subject, and be sure to do some skeptical digging around rather than taking any news reports on it at face value.

  17. #17 AngelGabriel
    Ask a scientist
    December 5, 2012

    My Dear Richard
    Of course there is life on planets throughout the universe.
    And though blue green algae is robust; it does NOT live on meteors in space.
    If you don’t believe an angel; ask a scientist.

  18. #18 Richard B. Hoover
    Huntsville, Alabama
    December 7, 2012

    I have never suggested that Cyanobacteria “live on meteors in space.” I have reported the detection of the filaments in several carbonaceous chondrites. Many of these filaments exhibit features similar to those known in filamentous trichomic prokaryotes that live in aquatic environments, ice and permafrost on Earth. This is not a claim. It is not a hypothesis, It is not a theory. It is a statement of observational facts. The evidence is provided in the form of ESEM and FESEM and optical microscopy images an EDS spot data and 2D elemental spectral maps. Based on ED’S studies of the nitrogen content of a host of living and long dead biological remains as well as ancient fossils of terrestrial life forms, I have concluded that these filaments can not be modern (I.e. post-arrival biological contaminants.) This leaves the alternate explanation that they lived and died long ago in an aqueous environment on the parent body of the meteorite. Other scientists have proven that the parent bodies of these meteorites had large amounts of liquid water for long periods of time. There are a number of independent studies that have established that these meteorites contain life-critical biomolecules that are not known to be made by abiotic mechanisms. I do not need to believe an angel or ask a scientist. I am a scientist. II have also discussed these observations with hundreds of scientists over the past fifteen years. Have you even bothered to read the paper for yourself? If you do, you may revise your opinion. If not, perhaps you could then state your specific objections to the published data.

  19. #19 Richard B. Hoover
    December 7, 2012

    G,

    You have asked some good and thoughtful questions.
    Again, this is not a hypothesis, but observations that are known to a large number of exobiologists and astrobiologists. Many, such as David McKay, Academician Alexei Rozanov, Academician Eric Galimov, Professor Roland Paepe, Dr. Roesmarie Rippka, Dr. Anne St. Amand, and many others have provided helpful discussions and are generally supportive of these findings and interpretations. There are others who are strongly critical. They have not directly addressed the observations and set forth alternative explanations for the observed data.

    Robotic missions could be flown, but these would be difficult, and costly and are not likely to be undertaken by NASA. Since Viking, NASA has consistently refused to consider any mission with life detection capability. Note that neither Spirit, Opportunity, nor Curiosity had any instruments or experiments on board designed to search for life.

    Cyanobacteria and many other extremophiles have adapted to be able to survive in hot water, cold water and exposure to hard vacuum and high levels of radiation. This combination of conditions could easily be found on a comet, but is not to be found anywhere on Earth. Why did these organisms adapt to be able to survive in conditions that are never encountered together in natural environments on this planet? The parent bodies of these meteorites could have been contaminated long ago by microbes ejected from Earth, Mars, Europa, Enceladus comets, or other bodies of our Solar System. If these microbes found water, nutrients and other suitable conditions they may have begun to fluorish and then die and be cryopreserved for millenia. Fascinating thought is it not. I hope these comments are helpful.

  20. #20 Russell Ryan
    Brisbane, Australia
    December 8, 2012

    Thanks for the interesting article.

    Unfortunately, I then read the comments, and now, instead of wondering about our amazing universe, I’m wondering about how common it is to find rude and argumentative people on sites like this.

    On the positive side, I’m amazed that Richard stayed focussed and on task thru all that. Pretty impressive. But, a pity that Torbjörn Larsson sensibly just ignored it all and left, don’t you think?

    Most people would have realised that 40% figure was just an error (probably referred to sattelites) but not OKThen. Sufficient reason to accuse Torbjörn of all sorts of mischeif, and move the conversation from science to OKThen’s ego.

    However, loved the ‘laughed at Bozo’ joke.