Life on mars

(Published in Grail World 3/1997)

The NASA "discovery" and life in space

In August of the previous year, in the middle of a news "summer slump", NASA launched a sensational report: Traces of life had been discovered on Mars rocks, which suggest that it was on ours about 3.5 billion years ago Sister planets gave primitive life forms.

Life on other stars? Foreign intelligences? The NASA "discoveries" gave a boost to all sorts of speculations and served science fiction fans as well as UFOlogs. “Grail World” editor Siegfried HAGL analyzes what “life on Mars” and in general in space is really all about.

Three and a half billion years ago, at the time when according to NASA reports there were supposed to have been primitive life forms on Mars, life also began in the form of microorganisms on our home planet. There remains room for speculation as to how far life might have evolved on Mars before it lost its water and became a hostile desert.

Traces on the surface of Mars give rise to the hypothesis that Mars - it is significantly smaller than our earth - was not always a waterless desert, and that organic life could have developed there.

A sensational find

The sensational news from NASA about life on Mars needs to be revised: The said "Mars rock" is a meteorite found in 1984 that fell in the Arctic approximately 13,000 years ago. Its composition suggests that it came from Mars, but that is not guaranteed.

An asteroid - a small celestial body - must have struck Mars more than thirteen millennia ago. This tiny planet blasted off Martian rocks and hurled it into orbit around the sun. One of these ejected chunks was "captured" by the earth and eventually crashed over the Arctic.

The "traces of life" found on this meteorite are organic compounds that are known to be metabolic products of living beings, but which could have been created without any action by living beings.

Conclusion of the "sensational find": On a rock that is likely - or just maybe? - comes from Mars, have traces of chemical compounds been found that are likely - or just possibly? - are waste products of living beings. The suspected living beings are a kind of "bacteria", in no way higher plants or even animals. -

The hypothesis of life on Mars that has now been made public by NASA is by no means new. One can therefore assume that the "sensational" discovery of possible traces of life on Martian rocks was communicated to the public in such a sensational way, mainly because NASA would like more money for its projects. “Life on Mars” is probably the right catchphrase to get American taxpayers excited about further space flights and to accelerate a Mars mission planned for 2005, which will also bring rock samples to Earth.

Because the question of whether there is life on other celestial bodies has preoccupied us at least since Giordano Bruno (1548 - 1600), and whether we can ever answer it conclusively, “is written in the stars”.

The question of the beginning of life

Life, the comprehensive concept of creation, is usually reduced to a small aspect in our human approach: “organic life”. And when we speak of organic life, we can only start from the life forms known to us from the earth, which consist of macromolecules, the skeleton of which is made up of carbon atoms. Everything else is left to the speculations of science fiction writers who can also imagine a silicon-based life and much more.

A hitherto unsolved riddle of all biological research is the question of the beginning of life. One believes that one understands the history of the development of life, but the beginning, which is indispensable for every development, is still speculative.

A few decades ago, the question of the beginning was already thought to have been resolved: a chain of coincidences would have created a macromolecule capable of multiplying in the primordial ocean of the earth - the "primordial soup". This is considered the forerunner of all life and is called "Eobiont". Numerous theoretical and practical investigations have attempted to understand the steps in which such eobionts composed of giant molecules could have arisen, and the results were encouraging.

For example, a mixture that corresponds to the composition of the primordial soup can be brought together in a glass flask with the gases contained in the primordial atmosphere that was then still oxygen-free. If you imitate the lightning bolts of the numerous thunderstorms at the time using electrical discharges (Stanley Miller, who became famous as a result, was the first to do it in 1953), numerous complex compounds are actually formed, including amino acids, the most important building blocks of life.

The next step on the way to a living being also seems to be traceable in the laboratory. If you let the primordial soup, already enriched in Miller’s experiment, flow over the sand - imitating the alternation of ebb and flow tide - then precisely those 20 amino acids, which are the building blocks of life, remain on the artificial sandy beach. The amino acids concentrated in this way should then have linked to form molecular chains. The energy required for this was provided by the ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun, which was still barely absorbed by the oxygen-free primordial atmosphere.

In recent times one may discover yet another step on the way to life. The dogma of biology that only living things can reproduce was shaken. Researchers were able to show that a protein chain made up of 32 amino acids can reproduce itself under favorable conditions. This previously unknown “self-reproduction” of protein chains could be the next step on the way from inanimate to animate.

The "prions", which have only recently been suspected of causing BSE, also fit in with this discovery. These are protein structures that supposedly “imprint” their own disease-causing structure on the healthy proteins present in the brain of humans or animals and thus multiply at the expense of the healthy protein molecules.

The missing steps for the construction of the first living cell could not yet be followed experimentally, but everything seemed to indicate that the first steps on the way to living had already been explored in the laboratory, and the further only a question of the incredibly long, to Available time. There was no need to look for anything more in life than a particularly complex arrangement of atoms. Following a proven principle, the simplest explanation that seemed to answer the question of the origin of life was followed.

A good decade ago, however, the popular explanation of the birth of life began to falter. This is due to the oxygen: Until now, it was believed that the primordial atmosphere was largely free of oxygen, apart from a small proportion that must have been created by the decomposition of water under the influence of sunlight - which contains UV rays. The absence of oxygen was considered a prerequisite for the formation of the first organic macromolecules. Because oxygen is a heavy poison for these giant molecules, as it is for the first life forms. Even today, paints, varnishes, rubber, plastics - all examples of organic macromolecules - suffer from oxygen, which bleaches paint, cracks paint, makes rubber brittle and plastics brittle; especially when sunlight and oxygen work together. So lucky when there was a lack of oxygen in the primordial atmosphere and thus could not slow down the beginning of life.

But more recent research results question everything that has been researched and taught about the start of life for decades: The astronomical satellite IRAS discovered a proto-star *) in the cloud "Bernard 5" whose properties suggest that it is in one is in a similar stage to that of our sun right after its birth. This young star, unknown until a decade ago, allows conclusions to be drawn about the youthful stage of our central star.

If the astronomers' considerations are correct, the young sun, like the aforementioned proto-star, should have emitted around 10,000 times more UV light than it does today. Life on our earth began under a "different sun" and thus under different living conditions. Due to the strong UV radiation, there must have been oxygen in the earth's atmosphere from the very beginning, so that the oxygen in the air would not have been created - as previously taught - for the most part as a product of life, but rather through cosmic influences.

However, the lack of oxygen in the primordial atmosphere is a prerequisite for the emergence of the animate from organic macromolecules. Are all previous assumptions about spontaneous generation on earth refuted with a single observation in heaven? Have at least four decades of intensive basic research been in vain?

It is still too early for such a judgment. But we cannot avoid the possibility that life has come to our planet in a different way than on that path which we thought we had already explored well.

However, the theory of the beginning of life never remained without contradiction. Too many gaps in the system, which had been passed off as closed and consistent, remained open, and scientists were repeatedly of the opinion that even in such a long time the organic compounds suspected in the primordial oceans could hardly have joined together to form such a complicated structure by themselves as it must have been the first living being able to reproduce, the eobiont.

For example, the Karlsruhe university professor Bruno Vollmert proves based on the laws of reaction kinetics that neither the prebiontic primordial soup was a suitable medium to set the Darwinian evolutionary process going, nor could the necessary polycondensation take place in the necessary form. If one follows this well-founded explanation by Vollmert, then the origin of life in the ways previously assumed was not possible; The laws of chemistry oppose this.

So we do not know how life on our earth came about - we only speculate - and no one can say if and when we will ever experience it.

Did life come from outer space?

If one cannot explain the origin of life on our earth, one can avoid this problem by shifting the decisive process - away from earth, somewhere into the immensity of space. Because what seems impossible on our earth and under its conditions, that can be a fact far, far away under completely different conditions.

This thought is not new. It was represented many decades ago, then discarded, only to be brought back into the discussion. Two terms emerged:

Panspermia - Seeds from space:
The atmosphere of our earth is full of germs that are carried up by air currents in the highest layers of the atmosphere. Such microorganisms may leave the atmosphere and then be blown out into space by the radiation pressure from the sun. Many such microscopic organisms could survive a journey in space and - arrived in a suitable milieu (for example on Mars?) - awaken to new growth. Was this how life was sown from space three and a half billion years ago? The well-known Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927) believed that this is how life came to earth. We can neither confirm nor refute his opinion to this day.

Clouds of life in space:
The panspermia hypothesis, which is difficult to support with the scientific knowledge of our grandfathers, has recently experienced a renaissance. The well-known British astro-physicist Fred Hoyle has dealt with this question in several books, and he has finally come to the view that life did indeed come from space. His belief is based on the following observations:

First of all, he also considers the origin of life in the much-cited primordial soup to be impossible, since such a complex structure as the first living being could not - as orthodox scientists believe - have come about by chance. Then recent research has shown that organic substances are present in the matter of comets. It cannot therefore be ruled out that organic material in the tails of comets may combine to form complex molecules. After all, perhaps even the first primitive living being would not have originated on earth - where it can reproduce and develop - but rather originated in "hostile" space and from there reached earth.

But that's not all. The deeper Hoyle delves into the problem, the more adventurous his hypotheses become, until in the end he no longer shrinks from the assumption that somewhere in the distant space long before us life, plants, animals, people emerged that even developed a high level of civilization could.

This civilization could then have deliberately sent microorganisms, perhaps even insect eggs, on their way. With the aim of opening up new habitats in unimaginably distant, as yet unpopulated planets, which this primitive civilization can fall back on if necessary.

Fred Hoyle is not even alone with his adventurous hypotheses. He is supported by the Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick - one of the discoverers of DNA (the nucleic acid that makes up genes) - and, more recently, by the theoretical physicist Frank J. Tipler.

It is difficult to say what may induce scientists to penetrate so far into the realm of science fiction, to embark on hypotheses that are so uncertain and probably never provable. Because the further we move the place of the decisive event - the inexplicable formation of first life - away from the earth, the further we move away from answering the question of the origin of organic life.

The spontaneous generation - an "impossible" necessity

Until well into modern times it was assumed that living organisms arise spontaneously from "dead" matter through spontaneous generation. For example, it was believed that fleas formed directly from dirt and dust. It was only when the microscope was able to penetrate previously hidden areas in the human eye that doubts arose against this view, and various scientists tried to prove that spontaneous generation was not possible.

Finally, Louis Pasteur (1822 - 1895) provided evidence, which is still recognized today, that even lower forms of life do not arise from inorganic matter without parents. Today it is assumed that - at least under the current conditions - there is no spontaneous generation.

The scientific proof that every living being must have parents is opposed to the fact that there is life in space. At least once, be it on our earth or be it elsewhere, there was spontaneous generation in the universe. The only question is whether it is a one-off, rarely or never repeated coincidence, or whether life arises as soon as the conditions for it are given.

This brings us to a question that cannot be answered using scientific methods.

One can see a rare exceptional case in life, which could perhaps only come about once in the entire vast universe under special conditions, and speculate about whether our planet earth is the only celestial body on which thinking beings ponder their origin and their future.

With equal justification, however, one can recognize in life the expression of development-promoting principles of creation, which stem from a creative will that is far superior to us, follow a plan of creation that we do not understand, and allow organic life to unfold whenever a heavenly body offers itself for it.

Today's scientists, however, cannot experimentally prove any “overriding will”, no “plan of creation” and certainly not a creator and feel obliged to either reject what is unsearchable by earthly means or ascribe it to chance.

Since the “Grail World” does not want to be a scientific - even if not an anti-scientific - magazine, we may think further and ask, for example, whether there are any indications that can be used when deciding for or against a plan of creation, for or against the rule of the “ blind “chance can help.

In fact, interesting observations can already be made on our earth, which are not evidence in the scientific sense, but reveal something other than the game of meaningless, purposeless and aimless coincidence.

So let's look at our earth: there is life everywhere; in the darkest depths of the oceans, on the mountains to over the snow line, in tropical deserts and arctic latitudes. Living beings have also settled where there is the slightest chance of survival. Out of nowhere, as if by spontaneous generation or a miracle, they find their living space, in which they sometimes have to be extremely specialized.

Must such a principle be limited to the earth? Shouldn't life be found everywhere where the necessary conditions are given? Nothing proves that organic life must be the great exception in the universe. It can also be the logical expression of a comprehensive principle of creation, which we have only suspected so far and will never fully explore.

Life on other planets?

That brings us to the key question: Can life be expected on other planets?

As already said, we are talking about "organic life" as we know it from earth and we expect that life on other celestial bodies requires conditions similar to those offered by our home planet.

Life would therefore primarily require liquid water, so that one can say:

The distance between a habitable planet and its heat-giving sun should be neither too big nor too small, so that there is a “moderate” climate on the planet, i.e. neither freezing cold nor deadly heat.

The planet must not be much larger or smaller than our earth. Too small a planet could not hold evaporating water (like Mars, presumably); too large a gas would surround itself with a thick gas jacket made of ammonia, methane, etc., which does not allow organic life. Examples would be Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.

These conditions, which can be expanded, are actually only given on earth in our planetary system.

Mars - even if it had sufficient water - would just be on the verge of unbearable cold, while Venus is currently much too hot. There is also speculation as to whether it could offer bearable living conditions with a differently composed atmosphere.

So further life is hardly to be expected within our solar system; in the "best" case we could find primitive life on Mars, which probably died out there millions of years ago.

Is it worth the effort of a Mars mission for this? Of course, it would be extremely interesting for scientists if they could study life created independently of our earth.

The greatest adventure imaginable at the moment, however, would be the encounter with an alien high civilization that has developed far, far away in space completely independently of us. How such an encounter could come about and what would then happen has been described by the imagination of UFO researchers and science fiction filmmakers and writers. Nothing further should be noted here.

“Predictions” can perhaps be as follows: If life is the result of universal principles of creation, which have an edifying effect always and everywhere, then life on a foreign planet should not be completely different from what we know.

Certainly, there could be far greater differences between the flora and fauna there and that on our earth than we know them on the various continents of our home planet. I would also not expect identical gene structures, so that crossings between extraterrestrial and terrestrial life forms would not be possible, as they play a role in UFO and SF literature.

But “humans” - if they exist elsewhere - should not look fundamentally different from us, for example not be crustaceans gifted with intelligence. This can be inferred from the context of the laws of creation described in the “Grail Message”, as being spiritual they will also have “human form”.

We humans have thought a lot over the centuries as to whether other inhabited planets can be expected in space. Depending on the starting point - for example, which theory is used as a basis for the formation of planetary systems - the probability of extraterrestrial life is quite different.

First of all, we do not know whether there are other (habitable) planets - apart from those known to us from the solar system. The latest astronomical observations speak for it, but the proof is pending. So it can still be said that our earth is the only place inhabited by humans.

One should not overlook the fact that up to now any kind of “uniqueness” and “focus” thinking was a fallacy.

Our idea of the cosmos began with the earth as a disk and the sky above it. Even the ancient Greeks recognized the spherical shape of the earth and assumed that they revolved around the sun. Ptolemy's view of the world with the earth at the center of the world then prevailed for almost two millennia. Since the Baroque era we have become aware that our earth is neither located in the center of the universe, nor is the sun a special star.

If we now think that at least the human being must be something extraordinary, then all previous experience suggests that we are wrong.

Our universe is made up of a hundred billion galaxies, each of which contains a hundred billion suns.
If only one sun in a billion had a habitable planet, there would be ten thousand billion or ten trillion potential places to live! If we start from our earthly experience, then most of them should also bear life.

However, it is unlikely that life began and developed at the same time everywhere. So life on other planets will not only be far away from us in space, but also in time.

To this day, nobody can say for sure whether there is life on strange stars or not. But much, everything speaks for the fact that our earth is not the only inhabited planet in the immeasurable universe. It is by no means improbable that other “people” could also build up a culture, even a high civilization; a civilization that is hopefully more in tune with nature than ours.

Will we ever come into contact with such an alien civilization? If so, then most likely in a supernatural way. According to the current state of knowledge, it seems unlikely that we - or the others - will overcome the unimaginable distances in the cosmos with spaceships and meet each other physically.

Also read the article under "Science"The search for extraterrestrial life

Final grade:
*) A "proto-star" (pre-star) is the preliminary stage to a star.

(1) Frank J. Tipler "The Physics of Immortality", DTV 1995.
(2) Nature (ISSN 0028-836, Macmillan Magazines, London), Vol. 382, p. 525, 1996.