Has Curiosity Killed a Paradigm?
A bizarre sequence of statements from the chief scientist of the Curiosity Mars Rover mission, has captured unusually intense international attention – for good reason. Dr. John P. Grotzinger let slip on NPR that the first soil sample examined, using the full complement of the rover’s sophisticated instrument suite, had found something so exciting that he described it as “one for the history books”. But when the data was to be formally presented at the Dec. 3 American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting, Dr. Grotzinger and all the other scientists went to great ends to downplay any sensational results and indeed presented only relatively non-controversial data. At the meeting Dr. Grotzinger claimed he was referring to the “richness and quality of the data on the soil sample, not that it contained a major discovery”, but in what might be interpreted as a veiled protest against censure by the insider community, stated “We’re doing science at the speed of science. … ”
The most interesting data announced was that the deuterium to hydrogen ratio found in the gases from the sample were five times the D/H found on earth and the reported presence of chlorinated methane, a simple organic compound, the formation of which requires considerable heat. The presence of considerable quantities of chlorine is attributable to the presence of a large salty ocean on Mars at sometime in the past.
The most potentially controversial data, which was not revealed, has to do with more complex organic molecules, which could indicate the presence of life on Mars. But in the currently accepted paradigm, Mars, with little atmosphere and no liquid water, has always been imagined in its current orbit. A corollary of this assumption is that the surface soil sampled by Curiosity would have been completely sterilized by ultraviolet solar radiation so if any remnants of microbial life exist, they would only be found by drilling into layers of ancient rock, which Curiosity is scheduled to do months from now.
The same conservative approach that restricts any announcement concerning complex organic molecules have already been raised in the form of rationalizations – other possible origins of such molecules, such as ‘contamination’ of the probe before launch or material from meteorite impacts. This further implies that something with more profound implications has already been found. The question arises: What could have turned up in the data, that warranted such angst in the Curiosity team?
As indicated in many of the posts on this blog site, Cyclic Catastrophism posits that Mars was full of vegetable life as recently as 3,000 years ago, when in a geosynchronous orbit of the Earth. One Egyptian name for it was ‘the great green (planet)’. The vital aspect of this new paradigm is not only that life on Mars was so recent, but that it included vegetation which covered large areas of the planet. In fact, I am confident that a probe, maybe Curiosity, will eventually drill into the roots of trees. But what is more to the immediate point is the unique fractionation of carbon isotopes by the process of photosynthesis which is a far different form than the microbial life which scientists hope to find, and would be virtually impossible for them to explain. If the recent life on Mars was vegetation then the this would be reflected in organic compounds with a surplus of the lighter isotope of hydrogen, 12C. This holds also for organic compounds from any animal life that consumed the vegetation.
This fractionation is a well established phenomenon, for which the scientific community has developed standards, such as the PDB standard for carbon dioxide. Deviations from this standard due to the origin of the sample, e.g. from inorganically precipitated carbonate versus organic matter produced by photosynthesis, are expressed in the form of the Greek ‘small’ delta, δ(‰) with superscript 13. which is calculated as (R(sample)/R(standard)-1)1000, where R = molar ratio of heavy to light isotopes of an element. In the case of carbon, R =13C/12C.
Most plants on Earth are called C3 plants, including rice, wheat, potatoes and soybeans, and have δ between -23 and -33‰, with an average of -26‰. The carbon isotope of CO2 in the atmosphere, which is what plants use in photosynthesis is only about -6 to -7‰. The less common C4 plants, tropical grasses and salt marsh grasses, exhibit less, but still significant fractionation, with δ averaging -13‰.
Death of a Paradigm?
If the fractionation of carbon to the levels attributable to photosynthesis, characterizes the Curiosity soil data , it will completely overturn the current paradigm, in which Mars is imagined in its current orbit for billions of years. In such case, the actions of the Curiosity team are exactly what would be expected – obfuscations and delays, in hopes that some new data will contradict the finding. However, if it is found in this first soil sample, which was deliberately chosen because of its general commonality, it will almost certainly show up in all future samples, forcing the overturning of the entire uniformitarian paradigm. The ‘contamination’ card can only be played for a few more samples before the consequences have to be faced. Just as Cyclic Catastrophism is the only paradigm that clearly explains the slowing of the rotation of Venus (see post on Venus’ Slowing Rotation) in the last twenty years – an explanation still ignored by the ‘community’, Cyclic Catastrophism anticipates and explains the Curiosity data right here for the whole world to witness.