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NASA, wait, wait lemme put my drink down... NASA, you need to be searching for vanadium

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Boffin

Really?

The numbers don't make sense. According to this book chapter, Vanadium is found with an abundance of 100 mg/kg in the earth's crust, but with much lower abundance in dried biological matter. So there must be some magic either on Earth or Mars to explain why finding Vanadium should be a marker for biological matter. Maybe the article just fails to explain the magic properly.

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Re: Really?

Went to the link to read the paper (paywalled)

From the abstract, looks like "the Magic" is that they found Vanadium in microfossils from Earth in sedimentary rock, so why not on Mars ?

meh, if it works it works.

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Alien

Re: Really?

Sounds more like a plausibly deniable reason to look for Martian Nanobots.

Hold on, there's that FBI guy again, talking about his "icks" files, whatever that is.

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“You can see a steak looks biological – there’s blood dripping from it. Then, you put it in a pressure cooker for very long time, and you end up with charcoal"

Yep, that sounds like my ex's cooking.

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Coat

Note it's the idea of Vanadium and Carbon together that's

Otherwise it's a Vanadium deposit.

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Anonymous Coward

I for one welcome

Our vanadium powered liquid metal martian Overlords. (Arnie voice)

Oh, waitasec...

(cough Mysterons /cough)

Someone page Captain Scarlet.

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Bronze badge

Many of the high-strength steels are vanadium alloys, used in things like cutting tools and bearings. Vanadium is routinely alloyed with titanium and/or aluminium for very light, high-strength components.

All of these are the sorts of things you'll find in a Mars Rover, bits of which are even now wearing off and blowing around the planet in the wind. Not to mention the odd lander which hit the deck a bit harder than planned.

We've probably already fouled the place up with so much vanadium that we'll never know where it all came from.

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"We've probably already fouled the place up with so much vanadium that we'll never know where it all came from."

Planets are somewhat bigger than you give them credit for. We've only tried to send a total of 48 spacecraft to Mars, and quite a few of those didn't make it or didn't land. And even assuming those that did reach the surface were all made entirely of high vanadium content steel, that would still only be a few kilograms of the stuff in total. Regardless of whether you assume that's concentrated in a few places or spread evenly across the planet, it will be utterly irrelevant compared to the entire surface of even a relatively small planet like Mars. Hell, that would still be the case even if you assume every probe was made entirely of pure vanadium.

Just look at Earth for an easy comparison. If we look very carefully we can see the signature of nuclear testing and airborne industrial pollution in many, although still far from all, places. What we do not see is a thin layer of iron spread around the planet due to all our cars and things wearing down and getting blown around by the wind. There are huge areas of the planet in which we can still see essentially pristine geological material entirely unaffected by human activity. In other words, even if Mars were home to a major industrialised society, it still wouldn't be so badly contaminated that we wouldn't be able to search for signs of past life. The fact that we've barely touched the place just makes it even more certain that anything we find was there already.

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Black Helicopters

Saussages!

Why stop at Vanadium?

Shirley they could look for Unobtanium and Tinfoilatium at the same time?

Life ... don't talk to me about life ...

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Happy

Re: Saussages!

Why not just look for sausages?

Sausages are a sign of civilised life. Even if they've all rotted away with age, you should be able to find the frying pans and grill pans that were used to cook them. Or baking trays, with traces of sausage and yorkshire pudding.

All civilisations will eventually reach the toad-in-the-hole stage of development.

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WTF?

Re: Saussages!

I was always disappointed in the word "unobtainium". I was hoping it was going to turn out to be mining slang for something else actually properly scientific sounding, and it really annoyed me when that never happened.

And don't call me Shirley.

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Joke

By all means, let's look for Vanadium...

...but if we find Beryllium spheres instead - RUN!

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Headmaster

Show me the trees...

The chances that there was life on Mars that did not leave obvious signs are zero. I don't see trees or fossils in those rocks. But on earth it is abundant and obvious (even in places that currently have no life). Even our atmospheric composition is changed vastly by this.

We have the resolution in sampling, we have the scope. Nothing has turned up, because nothing is there.

Still, looking at rocks and doing science is great!

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Joke

Re: Show me the trees...

The chances that there was life on Mars that did not leave obvious signs are zero.

But that's exactly what the Ice Warriors want you to think, isn't it?

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Re: Show me the trees...

But if Mars died when life was at a primitive stage we might want to look in unobvious places. Examining Hadean and early Archaean rocks here on Earth shows some evidence that isn't the usual fossils like stromatolites. There are some unusual carbon isotope excursions in graphite in the Isua Complex of Greenland (3.8Ga) which *may* be the product of carbon isotope fractionation that occurs in living organisms. And then, a bit later we have the colossal Banded Iron Formations that appear all over the globe as a by-product of primitive life oxidising iron for energy which resulted in changes in the neodymium and europium isotope ratios in oceanic sediments and eventually the release of oxygen in the atmosphere.

So if we want to look for life, we're going to be doing odd things like checking isotope ratios and examining trace metal deposits.

And smashing rocks, lots of smashing rocks.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Show me the trees...

No trees. I think that the odds of life evolving anywhere are slim at best, and evolving independently on more than one planet in any solar system ... in OUR solar system, is almost absurd. It's just my opinion. However, I could see something like asteroid strikes spreading bacteria around in a solar system. While we would like to study it first, at some point we are going to send bacteria to all of the little spots in our solar system that might harbor life and see what happens. its inevitable, just by visiting them.

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Alien

Just like us.

I'm still lost at the point where we assume that all life in the universe just so happened to evolve in exactly the same way as it did on Earth. Space is a pretty big place full of all sorts of weirdness, and the evolution of life forms is by definition adaptive. We don't even need to leave our own planet to find a few OMG! WTF? lifeforms. The oceans are full of them, and deep oceans don't get sunlight, but somehow life evolved there. I guess we need to start somewhere, but to me it seems like a pretty shaky premise to expect life to have been similar, even if our planets are so close. And it only gets less likely the further away you get...

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Re: Just like us.

I apologise for the inexpert hand-waving but in an attempt to answer your question....

I would agree that you can't assume that everything will be the same but life (of any type) does have certain ineradicable qualities to count as life.

- It must be able to sustain and propagate a certain level of complexity

- It must be able to 'metabolise' some form of energy to achieve this.

- It needs some way to pass on this complexity to future generations - unless it is immortal - but then you get the question of how an immortal being arose from nothing and that's a whole other level of metaphysical enquiry.

- There are others but this is enough for this argument.

So Carbon provide s a very good base for a HUGE range of molecules and reactions which make the first requirement achievable. There have been suggestions that Silicon MIGHT be able to do something similar but there are other issues which make people doubtful. I am not a chemist.

Then you will need some sort of solvent to transport and mix these chemicals and here water is the stand-out candidate. There are others but again you run into problems matching your solvent and your silicon-based chemistry in the right conditions in some sustainable way (although imagination may be limited). I am not a chemist.

And finally all of the OMG! WTF? life forms ARE based on exactly the same chemistry and requirements as us.

So, not conclusive but definitely strong pointers in the directions one is most likely to find life......

I hope that helps - - and that other, wiser commentards will forgive the shortcomings in the answer.

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Anonymous Coward

> I would agree that you can't assume that everything will be the same but life (of any type) does have certain ineradicable qualities to count as life.

However, "processes vanadium" is not one of those.

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42

Molybdenum might be a more likely candidate.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molybdenum

Besides, the atomic number is 42.

Why search for another answer?

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