British tabloid finds life on Mars. NASA disagrees.
A Wednesday article in the the Sun, a British tabloid, carried the headline 'NASA: Evidence of Life on Mars,' leaving scientists from the US space agency wondering if there's intelligent life in the Sun.
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A Wednesday article in the U.K.'s "The Sun" newspaper entitled, "NASA: Evidence of Life on Mars," reported that the agency had unveiled "compelling evidence" for Martian organisms. But NASA officials and veteran Mars mission scientists say "no."
"This headline is extremely misleading," said Dwayne Brown, a spokesman for NASA based at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C. "This makes it sound like we announced that we found life on Mars, and that is absolutely, positively false."
The piece claimed that the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which have been wheeling around the surface of the red planet since January 2004, found pond scum, which the paper calls "the building blocks of life as we know it."
"I think they have taken this stuff out of context," Brown said.
Such a discovery would truly have been groundbreaking, since pond scum, scientifically known as cyanobacteria, are actually a form of life themselves, not just building blocks for it.
"I can only assume that the Sun reporter misunderstood," said Cornell University planetary scientist Steve Squyres, principal investigator of the Mars Exploration Rover project, who was quoted in the story. "What Spirit and Opportunity have found is sulfate minerals... not organic materials, not pond scum, and not the building blocks of life as we know it.
Water = life?
The article, which has been widely quoted across the Web, appeared after NASA scientists spoke to reporters from an astrobiology conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of research aimed toward searching for life beyond Earth.
The piece claims, "The recent missions have gathered evidence of sulphates on Mars, a strong indication there is water on the planet and therefore life."
But just because there might be water does not mean that life follows.