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Life May Have Thrived on Early Mars



Life may have thrived on early Mars until it caused climate change, which led to its demise.

Researchers from the University of Arizona’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology simulated the conditions that hypothetical lifeforms would have encountered on Mars 4 billion years ago. when liquid water was most likely abundant. Photographer: ESO/M. Kornmesser

According to a study led by University of Arizona researchers, if there was ever life on Mars—and that’s a big if—conditions during the planet’s infancy would have most likely supported it.

Today’s Mars is dry, extremely cold, and has a tenuous atmosphere, making any form of life on the surface extremely unlikely. According to the study, published in Nature Astronomy, Earth’s smaller, red neighbor may have been much more hospitable 4 billion years ago.

Most Mars experts agree that the planet once had a much denser atmosphere than it does now. According to Regis Ferrière, a professor in the Arizona Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and one of the paper’s two senior authors, it would have likely created a temperate climate that allowed water to flow and, possibly, microbial life to thrive.

The authors are not claiming that life existed on early Mars, but if it did, “our study shows that underground, early Mars would very likely have been habitable to methanogenic microbes,” according to Ferrière.

artistic impression of a great discovery

Such microbes are known to exist in extreme habitats on Earth, such as hydrothermal vents along fissures in the ocean floor, where they make a living by converting chemical energy from their surroundings and emitting methane as a waste product. They support entire ecosystems that have evolved to withstand crushing water pressures, near-freezing temperatures, and total darkness.

The researchers used cutting-edge models of Mars’ crust, atmosphere, and climate, as well as an ecological model of a community of Earthlike microbes metabolizing carbon dioxide and hydrogen, to test a hypothetical scenario of an emerging Martian ecosystem.

Most hydrogen on Earth is bound up in water and is rarely encountered on its own, except in isolated environments such as hydrothermal vents. Its abundance in the Martian atmosphere, on the other hand, could have provided an ample supply of energy for methanogenic microbes around 4 billion years ago, when conditions were more conducive to life, according to the authors. According to Ferrière, early Mars would have been very different from what it is today, trending toward warm and wet rather than cold and dry due to high concentrations of hydrogen and carbon dioxide, both of which are strong greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere.

“We believe Mars was slightly cooler than Earth at the time, but not nearly as cold as it is now, with average temperatures most likely hovering above the freezing point of water,” he said. “While current Mars has been described as an ice cube covered in dust, we envision early Mars as a rocky planet with a porous crust, soaked in liquid water that likely formed lakes and rivers, and possibly seas or oceans.”

According to spectroscopic measurements of rocks exposed on Mars’ surface, that water would have been extremely salty.

The researchers used models that predict the temperatures at the surface and in the crust for a given atmospheric composition to simulate the conditions that early lifeforms would have encountered on Mars. They then combined the data with an ecosystem model they created to predict whether biological populations could have survived in their local environment and how they would have affected it over time.

Under the influence of hydrogen consumed from and methane released into the atmosphere, ancient Martian life would have rendered the planet’s surface covered in ice and uninhabitable, according to the study. Boris Sauterey and Regis Ferrière contributed to this work.

“Once we had our model, we literally put it to work in the Martian crust,” said the paper’s first author, Boris Sauterey, a former postdoctoral fellow in Ferrière’s group who is now a postdoctoral fellow at Sorbonne Université in Paris. “This enabled us to assess the plausibility of a Martian underground biosphere. And, if such a biosphere existed, how would it have altered the chemistry of the Martian crust, and how would these crustal processes have affected the chemical composition of the atmosphere?”

“Our goal was to build a model of the Martian crust with its mix of rock and salty water, let gases from the atmosphere diffuse into the ground, and see if methanogens could live with that,” said Ferrière, who is also a professor at Paris Sciences & Lettres University. “And the general answer is that these microbes could have made a living in the planet’s crust.”

The researchers then set out to answer an intriguing question: how deep would one have had to go to find life underground? Sauterey explained that the Martian atmosphere would have provided the chemical energy that the organisms would have required to thrive—in this case, hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

“The issue is that even on early Mars, the surface was still very cold, so microbes would have had to go deeper into the crust to find habitable temperatures,” he explained. “The question is, how far does biology have to go to find the right balance between temperature and the availability of molecules from the atmosphere required for growth? The microbial communities in our models would have been happiest in the upper few hundreds of meters, according to our findings.”

They were able to predict the climatic feedback of the change in atmospheric composition caused by the biological activity of these microbes by modifying their model to take into account how processes occurring above and below ground influence each other. In an unexpected twist, the study revealed that, while ancient Martian life may have flourished at first, its chemical feedback to the atmosphere would have triggered a global cooling of the planet, eventually rendering its surface uninhabitable and driving life deeper and deeper underground, possibly to extinction.

“According to our findings, biological activity on Mars would have completely changed the atmosphere within a few tens or hundreds of thousands of years,” Sauterey said. “Microbes would have dramatically cooled the planet’s climate by removing hydrogen from the atmosphere.”

As a result of biological activity, the early Mars’ surface would have quickly become glacial. In other words, climate change caused by Martian life may have contributed to the planet’s surface becoming uninhabitable early on.

“The problem these microbes would have faced then is that Mars’ atmosphere essentially vanished, completely thinned, so their energy source would have vanished and they would have had to find an alternate source of energy,” Sauterey explained. “Furthermore, the temperature would have dropped significantly, requiring them to go much deeper into the crust. For the time being, it is difficult to predict how long Mars would have been habitable.”

Future Mars exploration missions may provide answers, but the authors predict that challenges will remain. While they identified Hellas Planitia, an extensive plain carved out by a large comet or asteroid impact very early in Mars’ history, as a particularly promising site to scour for evidence of past life, the location’s topography generates some of Mars’ most violent dust storms, making the area too risky to be explored by an autonomous rover.

However, once humans begin to explore Mars, such locations may be re-considered for future missions to the planet, according to Sauterey. For the time being, the team is concentrating its efforts on modern Mars. While NASA’s Curiosity rover and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express satellite have detected elevated levels of methane in the atmosphere, such spikes do raise the intriguing possibility that lifeforms such as methanogens may have survived in isolated pockets on Mars, deep underground—oases of alien life in an otherwise hostile world.


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‘Queen’ Founding Member Shares Crop Circle Picture



On May 24th, Brian May, a founding member of the rock band Queen who later earned a Ph.D. in astrophysics, posted several images to Instagram of a crop circle seen near Marlborough, England.

“Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary here in the English countryside?” The photos were captioned by May. “I’d never seen a crop circle before. As a result, I’m always skeptical of them. But yesterday, as we flew back from our production rehearsal space, over a location near Marlborough, there was this. […] Who creates these fascinating works of mathematical art? Is it a hoax? Are they created by extraterrestrials? And… how…? And what is their goal?”
Responses to May’s post have been mixed, with some claiming that the phenomenon is paranormal, while others believe that hoaxers are to blame.

Crop circles have sparked speculation in the modern era since at least the mid-1970s, with theories ranging from hoaxers to otherworldly beings to “earth energies.”

Despite the fact that people have claimed responsibility for certain crop circle formations, mysterious circles of flattened plants discovered in fields date back much further than modern-day hoaxers.

W.Y. Evans-Wentz recorded folktales of faeries coming in the night to thresh farmers’ grain in his 1911 book The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. Similarly, in 1678, an English woodcut pamphlet depicts ‘The Mowing-Devil,’ who is shown mowing crops in a circular pattern.

While some dismiss these as folkloric inspiration for modern-day hoaxers, others see them as proof of a phenomenon that predates man-made imitation.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the crop circle photographed by May.


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DoD Announces Expanded Effort to Investigate UFOs



According to a press release issued by the Department of Defense (DoD):

Due to the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2022, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), amended her original directive to the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence & Security on July 15, 2022, by renaming and expanding the scope of the Airborne Object Identification and Management Group (AOIMSG) to the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO).

USD(I&S) Hon. Ronald S. Moultrie informed the department today of the establishment of AARO within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, and named Dr. Sean M. Kirkpatrick, most recently the chief scientist at the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center, as its director.

The AARO’s mission will be to coordinate efforts across the Department of Defense and other federal departments and agencies in the United States to detect, identify, and attribute objects of interest in, on, or near military installations, operating areas, training areas, special use airspace, and other areas of interest, and, as needed, to mitigate any associated threats to operational safety and national security. Anomaly, unidentified space, airborne, submerged, and transmedium objects are included.

Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security (USD(I&S)) Ronald Moultrie will lead the AARO Executive Council (AAROEXEC), which will provide oversight and direction to the AARO along the following primary lines of effort:

1. Surveillance, Collection and Reporting
2. System Capabilities and Design
3. Intelligence Operations and Analysis
4. Mitigation and Defeat
5. Governance
6. Science and Technology

This newly reported expansion of the Pentagon’s UFO investigation program follows low congressional trust in their investigative efforts.

Following the release of the much-anticipated preliminary assessment report on UFOs by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence last year, many in the intelligence community were critical of what they saw as the report’s failure to offer any concrete explanations for most of the incidents examined, particularly in light of concerns about secret Russian or Chinese technology.

The Pentagon then promised to revamp the task force in charge of investigating UFOs, which resulted in the formation of the AOIMSG, which has since been renamed the AARO.

This reflects Congress’ growing interest in UFOs, which was most recently demonstrated during a House Intelligence Subcommittee hearing on the subject last May—the first of its kind in more than 50 years.

The congressional hearing allowed lawmakers to question the Pentagon about unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP)—the current government term for UFOs—and for government officials to explain their current position and outline plans to investigate the issue further.

During the hearing, there were few mentions of extraterrestrials, though the Pentagon did express a particular interest in reports containing unusual flight characteristics such as incredible speed, transmedium capabilities, and undetectable means of propulsion.

Since the existence of the Pentagon’s Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program (AATIP), which reportedly ran from 2007 to 2012, was made public in 2017, congressional interest in UFOs has skyrocketed.

Interest in the encounters between Navy pilots and UFOs grew, and in 2019, several senators, including Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), then vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, were briefed on them.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, led at the time by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), then included a directive in their Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 ordering the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to create a report on “unidentified aerial phenomena” in consultation with the Secretary of Defense.

That bill resulted in the formation of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF), which was in charge of producing the aforementioned preliminary assessment report.


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The Marlborough Monkey is a Cryptid Fans Classic



The latest documentary by researcher and filmmaker Karac St. Laurent, The Legend of the Marlborough Monkey, takes a fresh look at an older and often overlooked series of cryptid sightings in New Hampshire.

Most people don’t think of Bigfoot sightings in the northeastern United States, but St. Laurent has made a compelling case for taking the subject seriously while still having fun along the way.

The film is a tribute to the classic cryptid documentaries of the 1970s, and it was shot to look like an 8mm film being watched on a VHS tape. With thematic music and Robert Ready’s absolutely perfect deadpan narration, viewers could be forgiven for not immediately recognizing this as a documentary shot in 2021.

Despite its aesthetic, the film is very much a product of modern investigation, and St. Laurent conducts field investigations using equipment anachronistic to the 1970s, both solo and in collaboration with Small Town Monsters alum Aleksandar Petakov.

When some filmmakers might have been content to show only the interviews with researchers and witnesses included in the documentary, the field investigations were a nice touch. Folklorist John Horrigan is an especially bright addition to an already entertaining documentary, and his unique blend of wit and historical storytelling could have carried the film on its own.

Horrigan, interestingly, coined the term “The Marlborough Monkey” to describe the hairy humanoid being reported by New Hampshire residents in the 1990s, based on one account in which the witness said the creature looked like an orangutan. Those reports never stopped, and sightings of ‘The Marlborough Monkey’ are still being reported today.

St. Laurent, however, does not stop with stories; similarly to his first documentary, Release the Bodette Film, a variety of evidence is presented for the viewers to peruse. Much like that film, the viewer is ultimately left to decide what to believe, despite the fact that the vast majority of the film approaches the subject from a staunchly materialistic standpoint. Petakov makes a passing reference to high strangeness during an interview late in the film, but otherwise the assumption is that if something strange is going on, it’s most likely an undiscovered primate. This isn’t necessarily a negative, depending on your point of view, and those who prefer materialist science in the hunt for cryptids will appreciate the film’s mainstream take on the phenomenon.

That viewpoint is consistent with the 1970s-era documentaries to which it pays homage, and given the evidence presented, there’s never any sense that the investigation should be taking a different path. If The Legend of Boggy Creek is one of your favorite documentaries, check out The Legend of the Marlborough Monkey.

The Legend of the Marlborough Monkey has a run time of 43:14 and will be available to watch for free on the Crash-Course Cryptozoology YouTube channel starting at noon on September 12th. Expect it to be available on DVD around Thanksgiving.


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