Category Archives: Evolution

Charles Darwin on the Evolution of Religious Belief

Portrait of Charles Darwin by Oscar Rejlander, ca. 1871

From Darwin’s “The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex” (Chapter III, “Comparison of the Mental Powers of Man and the Lower
Animals” – 2nd Ed., Revised,  A. L. Burt, New York, 1890(?))

[NB:  This book, published in 1871, – like nearly all books on sociology and anthropology written in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries – contains terminology that is very harsh to modern ears.  Darwin was not a racist; he considered all human beings on the planet to be part of the human race, regardless of skin color or stage of cultural development.  Neither did he look down upon what he and other scientists of his time called “savage” or “barbarian” tribes of human beings.  Still, he was a man of his times, and he represents a stage in the evolution of anti-racist thought; for example,  as enlightened as he was for a man of his time on the subject of race, he thought nothing of drawing a direct comparison between the thought processes of human beings living in a state of  “savagery” and the thought processes of his dog.    At the same time he, like many others – particularly pioneering American anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881) – understood that the ancestors of all “civilized” people in the more advanced “civilized” nations had lived for a long time in a state of “savagery” characterized by very rudimentary development of culture compared to the modern nation-states.  They saw in the primitive cultures of “savage” tribes a vision of what their own ancestors must have lived like.  Morgan, in his excellent book “Ancient Society: Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery, through Barbarism to Civilization” (1877) –  developed a theory that all modern human civilizations had passed through a series of evolutionary stages (as the subtitle of the book states quite clearly).  That there were tribes in existence in 1870 which reflected all of these stages of development was a profound scientific discovery and provided a powerful proof of the evolution of human society.  Today, modern sociologists and anthropologists recognize the truth of Morgan’s analysis of the evolution of human civilization, but use terms that are less politically loaded with what many people – incorrectly, in the cases of Morgan and Darwin – perceive to be a blatant racism on the part of the scientists who originated the older terminology.  Used in the proper purely scientific manner of Morgan and Darwin “savage” “barbarian” and “civilized” are seen in their correct light as stages of development of the human race which make no assertion as to the intellectual superiority or inferiority of the human beings found at any stage of this evolutionary ladder.  Morgan’s pioneering work deeply influenced both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels;  his book “Ancient Society” was among the principal works which inspired Marx to prepare notes for what would eventually become, after Marx’s death, Engels’ “Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”, which quotes Morgan’s work extensively.  Darwin’s major works deeply influenced Marx and Engels from the time of their initial publication: “Only 1,250 copies of the first edition of On the Origin of Species were printed, and they all sold in one day. One of those who obtained a copy was Friedrich Engels.”(1)  Everything written by Marx and Engels after the publication of “Origin of Species” in 1859 was thoroughly influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution.  When Marx finished “Capital” in 1867 he sent Darwin an inscribed copy of the first edition(1); Darwin’s work is referenced (sometimes extensively) in “The Part Played by Labour In The Transition From Ape to Man” (1876), “Anti-Duhring” (1877), “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific” (1880), “Dialectics of Nature” (1883) and the aforementioned “Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” (1884).

[UPDATE: Thanks to the Internet, we’ve been able to locate almost every journal article and book Darwin cites in his footnotes to this article.  Since we found two errors in his citations which might well have made it extremely difficult for researchers and historians of science to locate these works, it is even possible that we are the first researchers to have found at least these two previously misidentified sources.

– IWPCHI]

NOTES:  (1)  “Marx, Engels… and Darwin?” by Ian Angus, International Socialist Review (November 2010)

Excerpt from “Descent of Man”, Chapter III, “Comparison of the Mental Powers of Man and the Lower Animals”:

Belief in God – Religion. — There is no evidence that man was aboriginally endowed with the ennobling belief in the existence of an Omnipotent God. On the contrary there is ample evidence, derived not from hasty travelers, but from men who have long resided with savages, that numerous races have existed, and still exist, who have no idea of one or more gods, and who have no words in their
languages to express such an idea.(1) The question is of course wholly distinct from that higher one, whether there exists a Creator and Ruler of the universe; and this has been answered in the affirmative by some of the highest intellects that have ever existed.
If, however, we include under the term “religion” the belief in unseen or
spiritual agencies, the case is wholly different; for this belief seems to be universal with the less civilized races.  Nor is it difficult to comprehend how it
arose. As soon as the important faculties of the imagination, wonder, and curiosity, together with some power of reasoning, had become partially developed, man would naturally crave to understand what was passing around him, and would have vaguely speculated on his own existence.  As Mr. M’Lennan (2) has remarked, ” Some explanation of the phenomena of life, a man must feign for himself, and to judge from the universality of it, the simplest hypothesis, and the first to occur to men, seems to have been that natural phenomena are ascribable to the presence in animals, plants, and things, and in the forces of nature, of such spirits prompting to action as men are conscious they themselves possess.” It is also probable, as Mr. Tylor has shown, that dreams may have first given rise to the notion of spirits; for savages do not readily distinguish between subjective and objective impressions. When a savage dreams, the figures which appear before him are believed to have come from a distance, and to stand over him; or “the soul of the dreamer goes out on its travels, and comes home with a remembrance of what it has seen.”(3)  But until the faculties of imagination, curiosity, reason, etc., had been fairly well developed in the mind of man, his dreams would not have led him to believe in spirits, any more than in the case of a dog.
The tendency in savages to imagine that natural objects and agencies are animated by spiritual or living essences, is perhaps illustrated by a little fact which I once noticed: my dog, a full-grown and very sensible animal, was lying
on the lawn during a hot and still day; but at a little distance a slight breeze occasionally moved an open parasol, which would have been wholly disregarded by the dog had any one stood near it. As it was, every time that the parasol slightly moved the dog growled fiercely and barked.  He must, I think, have reasoned to himself in a rapid and unconscious manner that movement without
any apparent cause indicated the presence of some strange living agent, and that no stranger had a right to be on his territory.
The belief in spiritual agencies would easily pass into the belief in the existence of one or more gods. For savages would naturally attribute to spirits the same passions, the same love of vengeance or simplest form of justice, and the same affections which they themselves feel.

“Fuegian Wigwams at Hope Harbour in the Magdalen Channel”  Illustration from King, P. P. 1839. Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty’s Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle’s circumnavigation of the globe. Proceedings of the first expedition, 1826-30, under the command of Captain P. Parker King, R.N., F.R.S. London: Henry Colburn.

The Fuegians appear to be in this respect in an intermediate condition, for when the surgeon on board the “Beagle” shot some young ducklings as specimens York Minster declared in the most solemn manner: ” Oh, Mr. Bynoe, much rain, much snow, blow much;” and this was evidently a retributive punishment for wasting human food.  So again he related how, when his brother killed a ” wild man,” storms long raged, much rain and snow fell.  Yet we could never discover that the Fuegians believed in what we should call a God or practiced any religious rites; and Jemmy Button, with justifiable pride, stoutly maintained that there was no devil in his land.  This latter assertion is the more remarkable, as with savages the belief in bad spirits is far more common than that in good ones.

FUEGIA BASKET, 1833. JEMMY’S WIFE, 1834. JEMMY IN 1834. JEMMY BUTTON IN 1833. YORK MINSTER IN 1832. YORK IN 1833. From FitzRoy, R. 1839. Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle's circumnavigation of the globe. Proceedings of the second expedition, 1831-36, under the command of Captain Robert Fitz-Roy, R.N. London: Henry Colburn.

FUEGIA BASKET, 1833. JEMMY’S WIFE, 1834.
JEMMY IN 1834. JEMMY BUTTON IN 1833.
YORK MINSTER IN 1832. YORK IN 1833. From FitzRoy, R. 1839. Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty’s Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle’s circumnavigation of the globe. Proceedings of the second expedition, 1831-36, under the command of Captain Robert Fitz-Roy, R.N. London: Henry Colburn.

The feeling of religious devotion is a highly complex one, consisting of love, complete submission to an exalted and mysterious superior, a strong sense of dependence(4), fear, reverence, gratitude, hope for the future, and perhaps other elements.  No being could experience so complex an emotion until advanced in his intellectual and moral faculties to at least a moderately high level. Nevertheless, we see some distant approach to this state of mind in the deep love of a dog for his master, associated with complete submission, some fear, and perhaps other feelings.  The behavior of a dog when returning to his master after
an absence, and, as I may add, of a monkey to his beloved keeper, is widely different from that toward their fellows.  In the latter case the transports of joy appear to be somewhat less, and the sense of equality is shown in every action. Prof. Braubach goes so far as to maintain that a dog looks on his master as on a god.(5)
The same high mental faculties which first led man to believe in unseen
spiritual agencies, then in fetichism, polytheism, and ultimately in monotheism, would infallibly lead him, as long as his reasoning powers remained poorly developed, to various strange superstitions and customs.  Many of these are terrible to think of — such as the sacrifice of human beings to a blood-loving god; the trial of innocent persons by the ordeal of poison or fire, witchcraft, etc.
— yet it is well occasionally to reflect on these superstitions, for they show us what an infinite debt of gratitude we owe to the improvement of our reason, to science, and to our accumulated knowledge.  As Sir J. Lubbock(6)  has well observed, ” it is not too much to say that the horrible dread of unknown evil hangs like a thick cloud over savage life and embitters every pleasure.”  These miserable and indirect consequences of our highest faculties may be compared with the incidental and occasional mistakes of the instincts of the lower animals.

NOTES:

(1) See an excellent article on this subject by the Rev. F. W. Farrar,
in the “Anthropological Review,” Aug., 1864, p. 217. [Note by IWPCHI: this part of this footnote is inaccurate: the actual publication this appeared in was “The Journal of the Anthropological Society of London”, Vol. 2 (1864), pp. ccxvii-ccxxii, “On the Universality of Belief in God, and in a Future State”];  For further facts see Sir J. Lubbock, “Prehistoric Times, “.3d edit., 1869, p. 564; and especially the chapters on Religion in his ” Origin of Civilization,” 1870.
(2) “The Worship of Animals and Plants”,” in the ” Fortnightly Review,” Oct. 1, 1869, p. 422.
(3)  Tylor, “Early History of Mankind,” 1865, p. 6. See also the three striking chapters on the Development of Religion, in Lubbock’s “Origin of Civilization,” 1870. In a like manner Mr. Herbert Spencer, in his ingenious essay in the “Fortnightly Review ” (May 1, 1870, p. 535), accounts for the earliest forms of religious belief throughout the world, by man being led through dreams, shadows, and other causes, to look at himself as a double essence, corporeal
and spiritual. As the spiritual being is supposed to exist after death and to be powerful, it is propitiated by various gifts and ceremonies, and its aid invoked. He then further shows that names or nicknames given from some animal or other object, to the early progenitors or founders of a tribe, are supposed after a long interval to represent the real progenitor of the tribe; and such animal or object is
then naturally believed still to exist as a spirit, is held sacred, and worshiped as a god. Nevertheless I cannot but suspect that there is a still earlier and ruder stage, when anything which manifests power or movement is thought to be endowed with some form of life, and with mental faculties analogous to our own.

(4) See an able article on the “Physical Elements of Religion,” by Mr. L. Owen Pike, in ” Anthropolog. Review,” April, 1870, p. 63. [Note by IWPCHI: another error in this footnote: the journal is actually “”The Journal of the Anthropological Society of London” and the actual title is “On the Psychical Elements of Religion” ]

(5) “Religion, Moral, etc., der Darwin’schen Art-Lehre,” 1869, s.53. It is said
(Dr. W. Lauder Lindsay, “Journal of Mental Science,” 1871, p. 43), that Bacon long ago, and the poet Burns, held the same notion.
(6)  “Prehistoric Times,” 2d. edit., p. 571. In this work (p. 571) there will be found an excellent account of the many strange and capricious customs of savages.

 

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Greed-based Capitalism Is Destroying the World; Why Workers Socialist Revolution Is Our Only Hope for Survival

Just as it is difficult to get people to read the warning labels on over-the-counter medications – a self-imposed ignorance which leads to the deaths of 100,000 US citizens a year – it’s very difficult to get people to read anything about socialism, which is the cure for the ills of greed-based capitalist society.  Even though the capitalist system is, as you read this, doing all it can to prepare to incinerate the planet in a nuclear World War III, still you refuse to read the warning labels  socialists like us have been writing in opposition to capitalism since 1848.  The capitalist system is killing you slowly now but will – unless you do something about it, sister and brother workers – will be killing you at a much faster rate very, very soon.  We know that you have been “taught” by the capitalist class that socialism is bad for you and greed-based capitalism is the best of all possible worlds.  Please just take a couple of minutes to allow the socialist opposition to make a few observations about the state of the world in 2016 for your consideration.  We’ll try not to bore you to death.  The re-runs of “M.A.S.H.”, “Andy Griffith”, “The Jeffersons” and “Bernie Mac” can wait. (For those of you who think we’re being condescending, watching “The Magnificent Ambersons” or “Do The Right Thing” for the umpteenth time is just as pointless).

Human society has reached that impasse at which we must break from our past and boldly stride forward down a different road if we are to survive the nuclear age. It is probable that all advanced civilizations are faced with the same dilemma: once the civilization is technically capable of harnessing the power of the atom, does it transition to a regime in which that power is put to the service of that civilization or is it used to destroy that civilization? Of course this depends on the political and economic stage reached by a given society at the time during which the power of the atom is harnessed. Tragically for the human race, the capitalist world reached this stage just before the socialist world; the capitalists immediately seized the opportunity to murder 200,000 Japanese workers – largely to intimidate the USSR and prove that the capitalist USA had the Bomb and were crazy enough to use it. A society that achieves this power, if it is an egalitarian society, can make the transition through the nuclear stage of development without destroying itself. A society that is based on selfishness and greed, and divided into constantly warring nation-states has very little likelihood of making a successful transition through the nuclear minefield. In the USA and Europe, the working class has abandoned its historic leadership role that it must take upon itself if the human race is to survive. We are letting people whose love for money over all else has so deranged their minds that they have become utterly irresponsible and pose a threat to the future existence of the human race. Will we allow our human civilization to be sacrificed on the altar of Mammon? Are we that stupid? The selfish greedy capitalists who own and operate the nuclear arsenals of the “Free World(TM)” are the LEAST CAPABLE of leading the human race through this stage of human evolution; they are the MOST LIKELY to plunge this planet into a nuclear war from which human civilization may not survive. We have let the greedheads and militarists call the shots and run the tables for far too long; this is why so much of the wealth of the capitalist world is being spent not on cures for cancer or to end human suffering in the world but to create military arsenals capable of destroying the planet many times over. It is our sincere and deeply-held belief that unless the working class seizes these weapons of mass destruction from the hands of the mass-murdering capitalist classes who have proven time and time again their willingness to use their wealth and military power to plunge the entire planet into barbarism the human race will not survive the challenge it has set for itself in negotiating a safe passage through the nuclear abyss.

Why Socialism?

1) Revolutionary socialism – the most modern and principled variation is the Trotskyism we represent – is a political philosophy that posits that all working women and men all over the world are sisters and brothers and that all workers should unite and fight to overthrow the capitalist system that is organized to systematically rob the working class blind. The capitalists in the USA, whose massive wealth was initially based on the system of slavery and a racist ideology of “white supremacy” that was devised in order to justify the enslavement of people of color ridiculed this fundamental idea of the Marxists as being utopian and not based on what the capitalist called the scientific principles of “Eugenics”. DNA research has proven the Marxists were right; Eugenics now stands as a totally discredited pseudo-science. Still, to this day, the capitalist world is dominated by a tiny class of filthy rich white men who believe that they are racially superior to everyone else on the planet and who believe that they have the “right” to rule the world. What does this mean? It means that the current division of the world into competing nation-states led by “racially superior” minorities (in Europe and the USA, rich white men) is a gross injustice and a fraud being perpetrated against the workers of the world. The racist ideologies that are the fundamental basis of fascism lie in tatters, utterly destroyed by modern genetic science. The workers of the world ARE sisters and brothers, yet are driven by the capitalists of the world to mistrust and hate each other and organized into armies to kill one another. Revolutionary socialism is the ONLY political philosophy that stands unalterable opposed to this state of things – which is why we are proud not only to call ourselves anti-capitalists but revolutionary socialists – Trotskyists.

Socialism is a political philosophy that seeks to create a far more democratic society than is possible or has ever been created under capitalism. Socialism dedicates itself to organizing the global economy for the benefit of the vast majority of the world population: the working class and peasantry. We have as our goals the complete eradication of hunger, homelessness, racism and sexism from the face of the Earth. We seek to create an economy that fully funds human needs, and that GUARANTEED all the fundamental needs of the human race for food, clothing, shelter, education and health care. Capitalism does not and can not provide such a guarantee. Anyone who tells you that capitalism can do this is a liar.

The challenges that face the human race today are enormous and can only be effectively dealt with on a global scale in a spirit of international fraternity and cooperation. The capitalist world, organized as it is into competing capitalist nation-states, infused with nationalism and led in each state by a tiny cabal of ultra-rich greedy individuals is NOT capable of tackling these tremendous challenges to the future survival of the human race. We stand at the juncture of two roads; one leads to a potentially prosperous socialist future in which a unified human race harnesses all its strengths – human and economic – to tackle these issues. The other road is the road of capitalism and after 400 years of evolution of the capitalist system we already know what we can expect if we stay on this road: small wars growing into bigger wars and then World Wars. The next world war could put an end to the existence of human civilization. Either the human race is going to develop an economic basis for an egalitarian socialist future or the promise of humanity will end most likely in a global nuclear conflagration. WE MUST EVOLVE BEYOND CAPITALISM! It is a matter of life and death not just for the human race but also perhaps for the planet itself. Socialism will take the wealth now being squandered on armies and gold-plated toilets for the rich and put it to use increasing the standard of living of all the people in the world, starting by eliminating once and for all hunger in the world and providing decent clothing, housing. education and health care for all the world’s people. Capitalism has had more than 300 years to do this and has failed miserably.

2) Capitalism is inherently undemocratic. Boasting of being more democratic than socialist countries it is in fact not even close to being as egalitarian and democratic as socialist countries of Cuba China, USSR and North Korea and Vietnam. The US capitalist class is only about 3% of the US population but possesses more than half of the national wealth. How can this state of things be called “democratic”? When result of 250 years of capitalist “democracy” in the USA results in 10% of the population owning 75% of the national wealth, obviously this is nothing even CLOSE to being a democracy. The thoroughly fraudulent nature of bourgeois democracy is fully exposed by the enormously unequal distribution of wealth in even the most “”advanced” capitalist nation-states. The capitalists and their apologists never tire of cynically asking the world “why is there so much violence in our society”? Well when they force 75% of the population to fight over a mere 25% of the national wealth, of course there will be violent conflict. Aside from the revolutionary socialists, no political force in the capitalist world – including the fake-socialists of the 2nd International like Bernie Sanders – wants to change the status quo because all of the pro-capitalist politicians and propagandists defending capitalism are profiting from it personally. And a great many of them are envious of the ultra-rich and harbor delirious dreams of some day reaching the top of the capitalist pyramid.

3) Capitalism is killing the planet. The climate crisis facing the world today simply can not be dealt with on a nation-by-nation basis under an economic system that rewards selfishness instead of generosity and international co-operation. The capitalists of the world are all out to rip each other off and to trick their competition into cutting deals that largely benefit only themselves. This kind of vicious “look out for #1” philosophy is what lies behind all the attempts by wealthy people to bastardize scientific research on climate change in order to buy themselves a few more years of stuffing their bank accounts with cash derived from environmentally destructive capitalist enterprises. All these people care about is money; this places the welfare of the entire population of the planet in the hands of a few million greed-infected mentally ill capitalist profiteers.

4) Capitalism is retarding the pace of advancement in science. In seeking always as their primary life-goal to stuff their bank accounts with cash by any means necessary, the capitalists only wish to invest in projects designed to increase their wealth by the largest margin possible. Large-scale scientific projects that seek simply to increase human understanding of the universe are, to the capitalists, a waste of time and money. Therefore incredible amounts of scientific research that would bring about a greater understanding of our place in the Universe are put off while all the capitalists invest trillions of dollars on the “next big profit-making bubble”. Reduplicating efforts to invest in mining in order to profit from the growth of the Chinese economy, the capitalists wasted billions developing environmentally destructive strip-mining operations which then went immediately bankrupt when Chinese economy experienced an entirely predictable periodic correction. Meanwhile scientists seeking funding for important research projects on everything from studying gravitational waves to a cure for cancer must go around hat in hand begging for funds. They are forced to spend almost as much time on seeking funding as they spend actually doing research. This is depriving the human race from the benefits of research that should – and would be under socialism – fully funded by the government.

5) Capitalism is killing people. Hundreds of millions of workers in the capitalist nation-states of our planet are going hungry every day and starving to death because for the capitalists it is just not profitable enough to feed them. Like everything else under capitalism, that which does not make a capitalist richer fast enough is going to not receive investment dollars. In always seeking the greats profit margins possible the capitalist class denies basic human needs to more than one third of the global population. This state of affairs is completely unacceptable to only one political force in the world: the communists. The capitalist class and its acolytes never tire of coming up with all kinds of bullshit reasons why it is just not possible at this time to feed the world. They tell us that eliminating hunger is not possible! That’s a lie. They tell us that ending warfare is not possible; that, too is a lie. The reason warfare exists is as yet another profit-making enterprise for the capitalist class. War is extremely profitable; there is hardly anyone among the stockholding class that doesn’t have at least some kind of investment in an enterprise that manufactures the weapons of war, or which makes its money rebuilding infrastructure destroyed by the endless for-profit wars created by the capitalist class. The capitalists make money destroying people and infrastructure via warfare; and they make money repairing the damage they caused – nice, eh? Yet you, the workers of the world, not only stupidly allow them to force you to provide the finance through your taxes for these profitable wars; you also willingly send your sons and daughters to do the killing and destroying for them. If the capitalist class deserves condemnation for its bloodthirsty ways, can you, who finance their wars and provide the soldiers for the wars be let off the hook for doing so? We think not. Until each and every one of you understands that by supporting the capitalist system as you do, the blood of the millions of workers being butchered and starved by YOUR GOVERNMENTS is on YOUR HANDS TOO! You cannot hide from this fact, sister and brother workers of the US and the NATO countries!

Only by overthrowing the global greed-based individualistic capitalist system and replacing it with a cooperative rationally-planned global egalitarian democratic socialist system can we finally harness the full potential of the human race and tackle the global climate crisis that threatens the future existence of our human family. Trying to deal with global problems in a world made up of competing capitalist nation states constantly trying to rob each other blind is not going to work! Time is not on our side, sisters and brothers! We must immediately start organizing the revolutionary socialist political parties of the working class that are essentially necessary to the successful overthrow of rapacious global capitalism. If we fail to do this, we will be bequeathing our children a future of endless war over everything from water to oil. This hideous capitalist future that rises up like a spectre before us is not a fait accompli. We must make the effort necessary to tear ourselves away from the endless entertainments the capitalist provide us to keep us distracted while they plunder the planet and murder our working-class sisters and brothers all over the globe. WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO WAKE UP AND GET THIS PROJECT GOING? Every day of delay is making the cost of undoing the damage being inflicted by the capitalists that much higher! The Democrats are owned and operated by the capitalists; so are, of course, the Republicans. We need new parties of by and for the working class and we need them now! There are some that are existing and others like ours that aer just getting started. But thanks to the Internet we can get new working-class political parties up and running and financed in just a few months. THE FUTURE IS NOW! THERE IS NO FUTURE FOR THE WORKING CLASS UNDER THE CAPITALIST SYSTEM! CAPITALISM MUST DIE SO THAT THE WORKING CLASS MAY LIVE! WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE!

IWPCHI

EXCLUSIVE: Transcript of NASA News Conference Announcing Discovery of ‘Habitable Environment’ on Mars

We present here a transcript of the science presentations delivered  at a March 12, 2013 press conference  at which NASA Mars Science Laboratory (“Curiosity”) scientists announced that they had discovered evidence of what had been – how long ago may not yet be precisely determined –  a “habitable environment” on Mars.

The discovery – which is NOT the discovery of “life on Mars” – is another step forward towards that goal.  Having now found multiple proofs that water both flowed and pooled on Mars for long enough periods of time to have produced mineral-rich clays of a type very similar to those on Earth (in which, some scientists speculate, early multicellular life forms may have evolved on Earth), the NASA team will now search to confirm some of the most intriguing discoveries recently made, which their Principal Investigator team describes below.  These developments have come quite rapidly from this mission; we expect that there will be many more exciting discoveries made by the Curiosity team in the very near future – and as soon as they occur, we will try to bring the news to you.

As always, this transcript was produced by ourselves from the video on NASA’s USTREAM channel.  It’s still a nearly complete, uncorrected partial transcript; we were not able to complete Dr. Grotzinger’s “wrap up” of the press conference, though we do have the entirety of all the four main science presentations made, including the accompanying graphics.  We also have to go back and research the names of several scientists mentioned during the press conference, whose names we render here phonetically.  We also have not yet been able to listen to or transcribe the highlights of the “question-and-answer” session which took place at the end of these presentations, which you can see by watching the video.  We’ll try to get to that in the next couple of days.  Someday, the working class of the US will see the value in having a political party of their own and will be willing to properly fund such a party, at which time we will be able to do this work full-time for the benefit of the working class.  Until that glorious day dawns upon these United States, we have to continue to work other – far less important – jobs for a living!  All errors of transcription are our own.

IWPCHI

***********************************

[NASA Briefing on Curiosity’s Analysis of Mars Rock – 12 March, 2013.  NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.]

Moderator: Dwayne Brown, NASA Office of Communications

Dr. John Grunsfeld, Associate Administrator, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate

Dr. Michael Meyer: Lead Scientist, Mars Exploration Program, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.

Dr. John Grotzinger: Curiosity Project Scientist, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, California

Dr. David Blake: Principal Investigator, Curiosity’s Chemistry/Mineralogy Instrument (CheMin), NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California

Dr. Paul Mahaffy: Principal Investigator, Curiosity’s “Sample Analysis at Mars” (SAM) Instruments, Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

Dr. Meyer:  “The NASA Mars Exploration Program has progressively approached the red planet from a global perspective to focus exploration of regions, past and present, that exhibit the potential for life.  Every successive mission has boosted our expectations that Mars could have been a ‘habitable planet’: a place that could have supported life.  This program of orbiters and landers have brought us to the point of seeking a habitable environment on Mars.  This is what brought the rover ‘Curiosity’ to Gale Crater.  Mineralogical, and geomorphological evidence from orbit showing that the area had significant amount of water in its’ past.

“As John mentioned, on August 6th, Curiosity landed spectacularly where we wanted in Gale Crater.  Within two months the team found an ancient riverbed: evidence of flowing water.  And we followed that downhill to ‘Yellowknife Bay’.  At the same time, we exercised the rover’s capabilities, tested the instruments for the first time, and doing science along the way.   We have now completed all the ‘first-time’ activities including the first sample drilled on another planet.

“This mission has been a fantastic team effort of engineers and scientists to deliver a highly capable exploration rover to Mars.  The rover is now fully commissioned for science; all the instruments are working; and the ‘keys to the rover’ have been turned over to the science team.  Woo hoo! [sic – lol]  [laughter]

“So, Mars has written the autobiography – its autobiography – in the rocks of Gale Crater; and we have just started deciphering that story.

“So, ‘Chapter One: Yellowknife Bay’:  This was an ancient environment with the right elements (minerals indicating a near-neutral environment) and slightly salty liquid water – all the prerequisites to support life; a habitable environment.  And so for the rest of the story, I’ll turn this over to John.”

Dr. Grotzinger: “Good.  Thanks, Michael. It’s a great science story, as Michael was saying; and I need to start first with acknowledging our colleagues that came before us, and also the entire planetary community that supported this mission.  As you know, developing MSL [Mars Science Laboratory – ed.] was a tremendous challenge and we had plenty of adventures there, but we got the support from our community and we really appreciate that.

I’d also like to thank the ‘Mars community’ and through the leadership of [Mack Donaldbeck?] and John Grant which led to the final selection of landing sites that ulimately led us to Gale, where we have had a terrific time so far – that’s been great.  And also, in particular, the MER mission; ‘Spirit’ and ‘Opportunity’; ‘Mars Express’ and also ‘Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’.  ‘If we have looked farther it’s because we have stood on the shoulders of giants.’  And those missions allowed us to fine-tune our exploration campaign that led us to this place.

Finally, those of us that get to sit up here today are joined by our colleagues back at JPL [Jet Propulsion Laboratory – ed.] and elsewhere – the other P.I.’s [Principal Investigators – ed.] of the mission, including Ken [Edgett?], Ralph [Gellaert?], Don [Hassler?], Mike Malin, Igor [Mitrofanoff?] and Roger [Wiens?] and Javier [Gomelsavira?].  Every one of the instruments has led into the discovery that we have made here.  Some of those instruments presented back in January when we first talked about the geology and that ChemCam discovered the first evidence for sulfates in this area here.  You’ll hear more results coming out next week at LPSC [?] and then at EGU [European Geophysical Union?] over in Europe, in April, you’ll get to hear more still.

So this has been a very comprehensive exercise and we didn’t just stumble into this area; this is something that took a lot of planning.

O.K.  So let me go to the first display item and bring you back to where we were the night of landing, when we as a community first looked at this slide.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU
Location of John Klein Drill Site

“We had selected as landing site; and the landing ellipse in particular was close to Mt. Sharp, which was considered to be our primary objective.  And so you can think about drilling an oil well here: you don’t just go in with one objective; you need primary objectives and you want secondary objectives.  And we had a secondary objective which was a distal part of this alluvial fan that you see here in the landing ellipse.  And we needed this in the back pocket in order to have the landing site confirmed by the review board, and then eventually accepted by headquarters.  And in case something happened to the rover we needed to make sure we had science to do in that landing ellipse.

“But that was sort of a… you can think of it as a back-up or a secondary objective and it turns out now, in fact, that it had become our primary objective at this point.

“We landed at the… there where it says ‘Curiosity Landing Site’ and we drove just a few hundred meters in the opposite direction.  We did this deliberately.  And this was based on the mapping that the science team did in advance of landing, and based on the previous mapping that came from ‘Odyssey’ and ‘MRO’ and all those great missions before us.  And in this particular case it led to the deliberate discovery.  So it wasn’t ‘serendipity’ or ‘luck’ that got us here; it was the result of planning.

“Now, what Paul and Dave will tell you about is the part that we do consider serendipitous: we had no idea that we were gonna go into the aqueous environment that we were predicting to exist here and also find sulfates and also find clays – and those guys will tell you about it.

“So that’s one of the reasons that we’re gonna be spending some time here.  So let me turn it over to Dave and he can tell you about ChemMin.”

Dr. Blake:  “Well thanks, John.  And, uh, you know, we got really excited when we first saw these uh… bedrock at ‘John Klein’ and saw these concretions and the reason is concretions are evidence of a water-soaked sediment – a soft sediment.  But what kind of an environment was it?  Was it ever habitable for life and if it was, would it preserve the organics for literally billions of years until we came here to take a look, to see if we could see what was there?

If you turn to the first graphic, you can see what made us think we really found something special.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
First Curiosity Drilling Sample in the Scoop

“O.K.: well, this is what we call ‘paydirt’.  This powder in the scoop here is from ‘John Klein’ – the drill powder – and it’s gray-green, meaning that it wasn’t highly oxidized.  And you can see in the back of the scoop there, there’s a little bit of reddish material – this is from the ‘Rocknest’ – and this is highly oxidized.  So anyway what it shows you is that this material was never highly oxidized and therefore if there was organic material present there, it could have been preserved.

The second graphic shows a comparison of the two x-ray diffraction patterns that ChemMin has collected so far.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ames
Minerals at ‘Rocknest’ and ‘John Klein’

“On the left is ‘Rocknest’ soil; and on the right is the pattern we got recently from ‘John Klein’.  You can see they look very similar; and from our analyses we can tell you they both have igneous minerals – feldspar, pyroxine, olivine and magnetite.  What’s different: if you look at the ‘John Klein’ diffraction pattern – down close to the central point there – the intensity is due to clay minerals.  And you see they are labeled ‘Phyllosilicates’.  And we can tell you from our analysis there’s between twenty and thirty percent of a phyllosilicate called ‘smectite’; and that smectite forms in the presence of water – we know that.

In addition, we have evidence of salts like halite and calcium sulfates rather than iron or magnesium sulfates that were found at Meridiani [Crater – ed.].  And this suggests that the water was a relatively neutral pH and, in other words, it was a potential habitable environment.

So all of this is what mineralogy can tell you from an ancient surface that’s billions of years old.

So the next graphic shows you what we think a good terrestrial analogue is for this material we found in ‘Yellowknife Bay’:

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ames
An Earth Analog to Mars’ Yellowknife Bay

The left image shows a clay-bearing sediment deposited in a lake bed in southern Australia; and on the right you see a core of this sediment.  And the different layers in the core represent different changes in mineral composition as the lake sediment was deposited.  And with that, I’ll let Paul talk about what the SAM instrument found.”

Dr. Mahaffy: “Thanks, Dave.  Just delighted to show you some results from SAM.  And I’m gonna explain a little bit about how we did this fairly complex experiment; but I thought it would be fun to bring along what’s a full-sized scale model of SAM – the ‘Sample Analysis at Mars’ experiment.

SAM and ChemMin are both very deep inside of Curiosity, so in these kind of beautiful ‘self-portraits’ that Ken [Enge’s?] camera takes of Curiosity, you don’t see much of SAM and ChemMin.  We have a test bed up at Goddard; you don’t see much of it either because it’s in an environmental chamber – it’s buried deep inside an environment that represents Mars.  So here [gestures towards model of SAM sitting to his left on conference table – ed.] we’ve kind of taken away the aluminum paneling and put on plexiglass and made a model.  And where the experiment starts that I’m gonna describe, we have just a little bit of sample located inside a SAM cup.  And I went last night into Amy [McAdams’?] lab up at Goddard and dug around and found some nontronite, which is a clay mineral of the type that we’re gonna be talking about today.  And I – there was a scale in there and I weighed out forty-five thousandths of a gram of that stuff because that’s about the amount that was in our SAM cup when we analyzed it.

So that’s where the story of this analysis that I’m gonna tell you starts; [begins demonstration, approximately 14:28 in the video – ed.] we have the sample in the cup in SAM – we have loaded it the previous ‘Sol’ (the previous day) – and we’re ready to do our analysis.

So, it’s night on Mars – the rover’s ‘gone to sleep’.  SAM’s kind of a night owl – we like to operate at night and – nobody else there to bother us – but’s it’s also a good thermal environment for some of the intstruments to operate.

And so, we had put the sample in the cup, through this little inlet tube – this vibrates as the sample’s going into the cup.  And then the sample manipulation system developed by our collaborators at Honeybee Robotics is, uh… can be seen down here.  And it turns out that the way the sample gets to the oven is: this little carousel rotates; the sample is dropped into the cup; the oven… the [corret?] cup moves over; and then it raises into
the oven – a very small oven where we take the sample up to the maximum temperature that I’ll show you.

And what we do then is that we start heating up the oven; we get a flow of helium going over the sample; we heat up the oven and then with the mass spectrometer (which is right in this area) we sniff a little bit of that gas and we measure the chemical constituents that come off.  And as we do that we  capture a little bit of gas in our tuneable laser spectrometer that was developed by Chris Webster’s team out at JPL; and we capture a little bit more of the gas in a ‘hydrocarbon trap’ because one of our objectives of this experiment really is to search for organic compounds on Mars.  And we, later, will send this gas to the gas chromatograph… I think I have a button here that will make one of the columns light up… and then the gas goes through those columns and the individual constituents come out one-by-one and then back into the mass spectrometer through a back door, and again we analyze what Mars is made of.

And so, if you go to the first graphic, we’ll show you some of the data.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC
Major Gases Released from Drilled Samples of the “John Klein” Rock

“And this really is just picking out the five major gases that were evolved from the sample.  And let’s start with what’s labeled ‘Water’ on top… but the mass that we’re monitoring – that is ‘mass 18’ (that’s the signature of water).  And you see the temperature scale on the bottom (going all the way up to fifteen hundred degrees Fahrenheit in this case).  And that water is coming off at really high temperature.  And that’s exactly characteristic of the smectite clays and it’s very good confirmation of what the ChemMin saw – we really do have clays here; and about thirty percent of the water that’s coming off is that… is that high-temperature water.

Go down to the lower left: you’ll see a blue trace; that’s oxygen.  We’ve blown it up by about a factor of ten in this case for illustration.  And we did see some oxygen at our ‘Rocknest’ dust pile; and we attribute that to the decomposition of a perchlorate, which is pretty interesting.  It looks like there’s very likely some perchlorate here as well.

The red peak is, likewise, carbon dioxide.  The carbon dioxide is produced either from oxygen reacting with carbon in the sample and making this carbon dioxide, or really the other alternative is the decomposition of carbonate.  And both of those possibilities are just fascinating, so that’s what  we’ll be pursuing as we progress with new samples and so on.

And then, finally, in the bottom right, at higher temperatures, you see masses labeled ’64’ and ’34’.  And those represent an oxidized and a reduced form of sulphur; they represent, respectively, sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide.  And so, that’s just fascinating: we have both oxidized and – much more than in this atmospheric dust – much more reduced sulphur there as well.

What the tuneable laser spectrometer was doing in the meantime in this experiment was measuring the deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio in water.  And it… very interesting observation.  We had measured very high deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio in water evolved from the dust; and we understand that as being a signature of a good fraction of water having been lost from the Mars atmosphere over geological time.  And in this sample we see just the lowest deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio that we’ve seen in evolved gas so far; and  so that’s something that we’re gonna definitely be pursuing as we go forward with other samples.

So go to the next slide.  And here’s what the search for organics is looking like.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Chlorinated Forms of Methane at “John Klein” Site

The data looks like… uh… signatures of mass-to-charge, just as I showed in the previous time; but here these compounds are coming out of the end of the gas chromatograph column.  And here we see two compounds that we actually had also detected at ‘Rocknest’: very simple chloromethane and dichloromethane compounds.  And it looks like they’re above the background level; it looks like they’re there.

Uh, we have to be very careful at this point in interpretation.  This was the very first sample that had gone through the Curiosity drill; and so there’s always the possibility that some residual carbon that was on the drill bit made its way into this sample.  So we’re really looking forward to repeating this experiment and seeing if these signatures of simple chloromethane compounds persist.

So, the really good news is the instrument is just working beautifully; it’s a credit to the very talented team that worked hard on not only making this stuff but making it robust and making it work in this very difficult environment on Mars.

So, with that I’ll turn it back to John for some additional comments.”

Dr. Grotzinger:  “Great. Thanks, Paul.  So, what I’d like to do now is sort of set the stage a little bit for what we view in this mission as the transition from the original goal, a decade ago, from the search for water on Mars to, now, the search for habitable environments on Mars.  And if we go to the first display item there…

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS
Two Different Aqueous Environments

“…what we can see are two rocks separated by a decade of research: the one on the left is from the ‘Opportunity’ rover back in 2004 (a rock called “Wotney”).  And what you see here is a rock – these images have been processed by Mike Malin and Jim Bell with what’s called ‘white balance’ – and it helps bring out our terrestrial intuition to sort of get a sense of what these rocks would look like if they were on Earth.  The one on the left is basically from the sequence of rocks at Meridiani Planum: a rock that is reasonably fine-grained; the particles were either formed in water or transported in water; it was then cemented in water (converted from sediment into rock); and then after that it was fractured and then some of the fractures were filled in with what looks like a relatively thin material (in this particular rock) but then you see all the bumps sticking out.  Those are the famous ‘blueberries’; these things we know are concretions.

“Well it turns out these things are turning up on Mars; and here on the right is our rock in the ‘Yellowknife Bay’ area called ‘Sheepbed’… uh, unit, we’ve named it.  And again you can see it approximately has the same color on the surface; it’s laced with these features that look like concretions to us; and the big difference is, is that you can see in that rock that it has a white veinfill running through it.  That’s the thing that ChemCam first hit; and told us that there were probably sulfates here.  So texturally, you see rocks that were transported in water, formed in water, cemented in water, altered in water and, uh… but that’s what you get on the surface.  And so what we need to do is scratch below the surface and if you go to the next one…

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS
Studying Habitability in Ancient Martian Environments

“…uh… this is what a decade of engineering gives you.  On the left, there’s a rock that was one of the first rocks that we ever interacted with at Meridiani with the RAT (Rock Abrasion Tool); and on the right we have the drill hole from Curiosity.  And the drill hole’s about one third of the size of  the RAT hole there on the left.

“But the big story is in the powder that’s generated.  And so, as we learned at Meridiani, we have a rock that is composed significantly of hematite in addition to the sulfates – iron-bearing sulfates – that indicate very acidic waters.   On the right, we get to see the ‘new Mars’: the gray Mars, that one that suggests habitability, that has these clays and other minerals present.

“So what, then, do we mean by habitability?  The key thing here is an environment that a microbe could have lived in – and maybe even prospered in.  So there’s three things that we want to point out today that Dave and Paul have shown you. And the first issue comes down to acidity. We don’t see any of the evidence that we have here – the rock on the left; the one from Meridiani?  It’s totally different in the subsurface in this rock on the right: we have the clay minerals (which form in neutral pH); we don’t see the iron sulfates (which indicate acid pH); instead we see calcium sulfate.  This rock, quite frankly, looks like a typical thing that we would get on Earth.  And it’s a neutral pH environment; and I think everybody has a sense of what ‘acidity’ means, but… there are some microbes that exist at very, very low pH’s… ‘but wait, there’s more!’

“And the second point is water activity: this is ‘how much available water there was for a microorganism to live in its environment?’  So with that, I’m gonna pull out a prop here [produces familiar plastic ‘Teddy Bear” container of honey – ed.]: it’s a jar of honey.  Everybody always wonders why it is that a solution of water and sugar can last on the shelf for ever and ever without spoiling.  And the reason why is that even though there’s a lot of water in this honey, there’s not enough that’s available for a microorganism.  And if a microorganism ends up in here, all the water will be sucked out of the cell – it’s this thing called ‘osmosis’ – and the organism won’t be able to live.

Turns out, the rock on the left there?  That’s what we think happened at Meridiani, but instead of sugar we had a salt called ‘magnesium sulfate’.  And there was so much of it that it would have inhibited microorganism[s] that lived there.  That was not a habitable environment.

And then there’s one more thing that we’re really excited about that we found at Meridiani – sorry; at Gale: and, uh… it’s a battery [holds up a typical dry cell battery – ed.].  And basically these minerals that Dave and Paul were telling you about – they’re effectively like batteries.  Some of them are negatively charged and they have various oxidation states; and what we have learned in the last twenty years of modern microbiology is that, very primitive organisms, they can derive energy just by feeding on rocks.  So when Paul talks about ‘sulfate versus sulfide’ and Dave talks about clays and magnetite, these are the kind of things that tell you that there could have been a flow of electrons in the environment, just like on this battery: you hook up the wires and it goes to the light bulb and the light bulb turns on… that’s kinda what a microorganism wouldv’e done in this environment if life had ever evolved on Mars and if it was present here.

So that’s what we mean by ‘habitability’: you take all three of those factors… and to really understand that, that’s what we built this payload for, and that’s what we feel that we have succeeded at.

[Question and answer session]

Q: “NBC in Los Angeles. Can you talk to me a little bit about the area where the rock was found? What would it have been like in ancient times? What would we have seen there?

A: [Dr. Grotzinger]:  OK… so, what we imagined it would have looked like was the picture that Dave showed [“An Earth Analog to Mars’ Yellowknife Bay”, above] we feel is a pretty good representation.  It’s conservative in the sense that it shows a lakebed that’s dry; the lakebed was filled by sediment that’s derived from streams… but we don’t know how long-lived it was; and so that’s always a challenge we’ve got on Mars.  It’s not like the rocks come with numbers on them that tell you how long the water was there, or how much there was there, ultimately.  But we believe that we wound up in this ‘Sheepbed’ unit at a place that was wet for a relatively long period of time – enough for all these chemical reactions to occur.

[…]

Q:  “Irene” from Reuters:  “Congratulations! This is pretty exciting stuff you guys are reporting today.  I have two questions: first is ‘What else needs to be done for analysis of the organics to… you mentioned a little bit about “the assessments were preliminary”; and the second question probably is for John: I know this is not a ‘life detection’ mission but given that you’ve scored a ‘hole-in-one’ so early, how much farther can you push this through the remaining eighteen months of the primary mission?”

[…]

A: [Dr. Grotzinger]:  I guess, Irene, the answer to the second half of the question is to underscore what you said, which is that we’re not a ‘life detection’ mission; if there was microbial metabolism going on, we really wouldn’t have the ability to measure that.  And if there were ancient microfossils in the rock, as good as MAHLI [Mars Hand Lens Imager – ed.] is… I mean it can tell us definitively that ‘we have a mudstone here’ but it would not be able to resolve individual fossil microbes.

What we can do is to survey additional targets that we have picked out; and we still want to go to Mt. Sharp and we hope to get there.  And there are different combinations of minerals that we see fron orbit that give us different prospects, and what I hope will become a burgeoning new field of ‘comparative planetary habitability’.  And what that means is that if you look at how we’ve studied the ancient Earth, and you look at the minerals and compounds and substances that are available, and you look at the ways that different prokaryotic microorganisms can do their metabolism… they use different materials; it’s almost like an organism has evolved to exploit every one of these little ‘rock batteries’ that exist in the record.  And so the question is: how many of these different kinds of ‘batteries’ can we find at Gale Crater?  And I think that really becomes our mission, along with the search for organic compounds.”

[…]

A: [Dr. Meyer (in response to follow-up question)]:  “[…] And as you mentioned, solar conjunction…we’re headed toward that.  Basically, we can’t talk to the rover and the rover talk to us for most of the month of April.  And so, what’s gonna happen is we’ll do some more science activities now – through the end of this month – permitting, with the engineers, confirming that things are safe for us to do those operations, but we will not do another drilling – the second drill hole – until after solar conjunction.  So that… we’re not gonna start that activity until May.”

Moderator: “Our next caller, from the Wall St. Journal, Robert Lee [Huntz?].

Q: ” […] So, gentlemen: in a simple, straightforward declarative sentence… or two, please tell my readers what you have found here and why it is significant.”

A: [general laughter] Dr. Grotzinger: “I can take a… I’ll take a swipe at that. I think we had a … we have found a habitable environment that is so benign and supportive of life that, probably, if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it.”

[Long pause – ed.]

Moderator: “I think that did it for him.”

[Laughter]

Moderator: “[…] let me take another question from Twitter: ‘The Opportunity rover: ‘three months’ and it’s going on for many, many years.  How long do you think Curiosity could last?’ ”

A: Dr. Meyer: “The half-life of its power is on the order of 84 years.  So I expect the rover to be there to shake the first astronaut’s hand… if the astronaut goes to Gale Crater.”  [laughter]

Moderator: “Next up: New York Times… Kenneth Chang. Ken?”

Q: “[…] I was wondering… given that [these rocks?] had good preservation, was there hope or expectation that they actually would have a stronger organic signal? And what does it mean that you don’t have a stronger signal?”

A: Dr. Mahaffy: […]

A: Dr. Grotzinger: “Kenneth, if I can I’ll just add a little bit to that. Paul’s reference to the early Earth is… you know in our history of exploration there… you have to have a search paradigm.  And that paradigm gets built on your understanding of the processes that result in the preservation of organics in the rock record.  And one of the big things on Earth is that because of plate techtonics we have a lot of heat that exists… that, of course, exists today.  So, a lot of organic compounds are degraded in the presence of that heat.

“On Mars, we actually think the planet cools with time, and so it may not be that heat’s the problem, it may be that radiation is the problem – something that we’re not so affected by on Earth.  So we have these three factors, as I said before.  To reiterate them (I think we’re all gonna have to learn these): the first is the primary concentration mechanism; the second is that all that ‘cool chemistry’ that creates the habitable environment – including the presence of water itself – is not necessarily a good thing for the preservation of organics.  And then the third thing is the radiation environment.  And so our ‘trick’ is to find a place where all three of those things ‘went right’ – and that could take the entire length of this mission… but we’re gonna give it our best.”

[…]

Q: Dr. Jim Green, Director, Planetary Systems Division SMD: “The one question I have, then: based on the observations, uh… what you’ve found out today is, would you say that Mars was habitable before or about the same time as Earth was in the history of the Solar System?”

A: [general chuckling on the panel] Dr. Grotzinger: “That’s a good question, Jim.” [laughter] “I’m not sure we’ll ever really be able to address that with our payload but, uh… you know, we’ve got a couple of different options here for the age of… of… just relative to Mars, how old these things are.  And right now, quite frankly, they go between being as ‘young’ as that alluvial fan lobe that comes down – which I think would be relatively young in the history of Mars – and it could be quite old.  Maybe these rocks are somehow related to the base of Mt. Sharp.  We can’t rule out that we’re looking at the base of Mt. Sharp right now – in a way?  So we’ve got a lot of options open before us… but I think, in any one of those versions, we’re talking about older than three billion years ago; and we’re probably looking at a situation where – plus or minus a couple hundred million years – it’s about the time that we start seeing the first record of life preserved on Earth.  It’s a great comparative planetary question.”

[…]

Q: Craig [Kovalt?] [Space Rep/ Curious Mars?]:  “The question on the clays: it’s one of the more significant findings is that you [had?] abundant water flow through the clay.  Uh… how does that relate to meteorite findings where they had also identified significant water [unintelligible] clays found in Martian meteorites? […]”

A: Dr. Blake: “Well, I think… you know, the clays in Martian meteorites were just… almost trace quantities and… probably… and the Martian meteorites that we’ve seen are mostly purely igneous rocks.  The clays in this rock – which is a mudstone (which was something deposited in a shallow aqueous environment) – are really a major percentage of the rock; and so they really represent a significant process.  Plus… I guess you could call meteorites the ultimate – what we call ‘float rock’: it came from someplace else and we don’t know where it came from.  We know where theis stuff came from: it came from this bedrock in Yellowknife Bay, and so we know that this environment existed in Yellowknife Bay with plenty of water.”

[To be Continued – IWPCHI]

NASA: Analysis of Mars Rock in Gale Crater Shows Life Could Have Existed on Mars

Yesterday,  in a news conference of scientists working on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) project, the announcement was made that the results of recent rock drilling operations on Mars have revealed that “ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.”

The results were reported by a team of scientists working with the MSL “Curiosity” rover, which has been exploring a region around Gale Crater on Mars where conclusive proof that flowing water was abundant in this location on the red planet was confirmed.   The scientists DID NOT state that they have discovered proof that life once existed on Mars, but that they have found proof that a water-rich environment in which pH levels that were consistent with what Earth-based life forms require in order to live were, indeed discovered.  ” ‘We have characterized a very ancient, but strangely new ‘gray Mars’ where conditions once were favorable for life,’ said John Grotzinger, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.”

Scientists showed slides and photographs comparing two distinct water-rich environments discovered by NASA’s rovers in widely-separated locations on Mars: the location in Gale Crater where “Curiosity” is currently exploring, and the area where the earlier expeditions of the “Opportunity” and “Spirit” rovers discovered water-rich environments.

Although rock formations in both locations showed visually similar sedimentary rocks, the watery environment where “Opportunity” explored at Meridiani Planum in Endurance Crater was found to have contained water of a pH level too high to sustain life forms of an Earth-like nature.  “The Meridiani rocks record an ancient aqueous environment that likely was not habitable due the extremely high acidity of the water, the very limited chemical gradients that would have restricted energy available, and the extreme salinity that would have impeded microbial metabolism — if microrganisms had ever been present”.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS 03.12.2013 Two Different Aqueous Environments This set of images compares rocks seen by NASA’s Opportunity rover and Curiosity rover at two different parts of Mars. On the left is ” Wopmay” rock, in Endurance Crater, Meridiani Planum, as studied by the Opportunity rover. On the right are the rocks of the “Sheepbed” unit in Yellowknife Bay, in Gale Crater, as seen by Curiosity. The rock on the left is formed from sulfate-rich sandstone. Scientists think the particles were in part formed and cemented in the presence of water. They also think the concretions (spherical bumps distributed across rock face) were formed in the presence of water. The Meridiani rocks record an ancient aqueous environment that likely was not habitable due the extremely high acidity of the water, the very limited chemical gradients that would have restricted energy available, and the extreme salinity that would have impeded microbial metabolism — if microrganisms had ever been present. In the Sheepbed image on the right, these very fine-grained sediments represent the record of an ancient habitable environment. The Sheepbed sediments were likely deposited under water. Scientists think the water cemented the sediments, and also formed the concretions. The rock was then fractured and filled with sulfate minerals when water flowed through subsurface fracture networks (white lines running through rock). Data from several instruments on Curiosity — the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer, the Chemistry and Camera instrument, the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, the Mars Hand Lens Imager, the Mast Camera, and the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument — all support these interpretations. They indicate a habitable environment characterized by neutral pH, chemical gradients that would have created energy for microbes, and a distinctly low salinity, which would have helped metabolism if microorganisms had ever been present.

This is obviously very exciting news and brings us one step closer to the discovery of actual evidence of life on Mars.

Whether or not life ever existed on Mars is really not that important.  The fact is that it’s obvious that Mars, for whatever reason, could not support Earth-like life forms under the conditions which exist there today.  The environmental conditions we have discovered already on Mars, as well as on Earth’s other, uninhabitable planetary neighbor, Venus, prove just how fortunate we are to have the amazing planet Earth to live on, and how delicate is the balance between all the elements necessary for advanced life forms to exist on any planet “lucky” enough to orbit within a star’s “habitable zone”.

This is why we support the idea of abolishing the capitalist economic system and replacing it with an egalitarian socialist planned economic system.  The development of capitalism long ago reached the limits of its progressive character.  Placing the interests of a handful of competing entreprenurial billionaires above the interests of the billions of people living on this planet simply makes no sense at all.  These billionaires, organized as they are in competing nation-states, armed to the hilt with weapons of mass destruction endlessly fight over the limited natural resources available to us all.  Their struggles to pursue selfish ends have already produced two savage World Wars, and today threaten to plunge the world into a nuclear holocaust that could send human civilization, in the short term, back to pre-industrial levels of development – and destroy the delicate balance of Earth’s environment upon which all life forms on this planet depend.  For our civilization to allow a handful of greedheads to plunge this world into a death-spiral would be the greatest tragedy possible to imagine – and we have the power to prevent this from happening – but not if we allow human society to remain organized into competing capitalist nation-states.  That way lies World War Three.  As socialists we must warn our fellow human beings: you have a choice between socialism or barbarism.  Which will you choose?

If we as a civilization “decide” to stick with the greed system, we believe we will be “deciding” to wipe out life – or at least human life – on this planet.  That is unacceptable to us, and it should be unacceptable to you as well.

Workers of the World, Unite!

IWPCHI

[Sources:  NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory website“NASA Mars Rover News” on USTREAM TV]

NASA Teleconferences on Mars: Don’t Expect “Hallelujah” Moment From Us

Well it looks like our rather bold assertion that NASA had found fossils on Mars was a trifle inaccurate.   And, as we thought about it a bit more, we realized that it would be impossible to deduce from mere photographs alone, the true nature of anything that we were seeing in the raw images being radioed back to Earth from the Curiosity rover traversing Yellowknife Bay in Gale Crater – no matter how awesome the images looked.  And we realized what a cheap way it was to get people to visit our website!  Ha ha!  Got you!  Well, maybe a few dozen of you, anyway…  it didn’t work too well, actually.  We really did believe that those photos were something quite extraordinary, though.  Well, they weren’t.

Today, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory team held another very interesting teleconference  to describe their latest discoveries on Mars – but they weren’t primarily interested in our “barnacles” – which turn out to be spherical concretions called “spherules” like the ones discovered by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers years ago, but with a different mineral composition.

No, today, the NASA scientists were more interested in describing deposits of calcium minerals deposited in fissures all over an area they have named “John Klein”, in tribute to the former deputy project manager of the MSL who tragically passed away in 2011.

We saw these things before, and they intrigued us as well.  But they definitely looked more inorganic than the “barnacles” we thought we’d spotted.  Which only goes to show what we know about Mars geology!

Both of these features – our non-barnacles and the fissures or “veins” of whitish minerals, are described as providing strong evidence of the precipitation of minerals from water.    It’s a sign that, not only was there water flowing for unknown periods of time here in Gale Crater, but that these minerals that were deposited in these fissures came from somewhere else, transported by that water after the rock formed and cracked.

These veins were blasted by Curiosity’s laser and analyzed for their chemical content.  It turns out that they are composed of “a calcium-bearing mineral”.

This photo shows a sort of side-view of one of the “veins” of this calcium-bearing mineral.  It’s got an interesting “cauliflower-like” appearance:

Side view of exposed calcium-mineral "vein"

Side view of exposed calcium-mineral “vein” (white “cauliflower-like” material on left of large rock in center of photo).  Credit: NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ Malin Space Science Systems

This is cool stuff.  But what does it all mean?  Is this in any way proof that life existed on Mars?  When will scientists be able to make an announcement as world-shaking as that?

The answer, we found, is that they are not likely to make such an announcement.  In the previous MSL press conference, held at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Conference in San Francisco December 3-7, 2012 – you know, the one at which the NASA team was supposed to make a world- historic announcement of some sort, but didn’t – Drs. John Grotzinger and Paul Mahaffy explained why it’s not likely that any one discovery is going to provide that type of a moment – because scientific inquiry simply doesn’t proceed in that way.

These remarks are somewhat lengthy, but they are so important for people to understand if they don’t want to keep jumping to ridiculous conclusions like we tricked ourselves into making this past week.   It will not be the results of a single experiment that will lead to these big, overarching discoveries, but the sum total of a large series of experiments made by the entire science payload of Curiosity that will allow the science team to amass enough compelling evidence to make well-founded assertions about such things as whether or not signs of ancient life on Mars have been discovered.   We learned so much from these remarks that we took the time to produce a transcript of the comments made by the two scientists at the AGU meeting, which we present to you with no further adieu.  Science proceeds “at the pace of science” as Dr. Grotzinger says; it’s a slow, methodical and careful process designed to obtain real rather than imaginary results.   So be patient!  We wish we had seen this video before we wrote that last article!   Enjoy!

Excerpt from John Grotzinger, Paul Mahaffy remarks at AGU Conference, San Francisco, CA, 3 December, 2012

00:27:50  “OK, so now I want to move on to a somewhat different subject that we call our ‘Three Months of Terror’.  Everybody’s seen that ‘blue-shirt moment’ where everybody was jumping up and down celebrating the successful “EDL” [entry, descent and landing – ed.] system.  Ours really isn’t so much ‘three months of terror’ as it is ‘three months of tension’.  Every day we turn on an instrument; we do the electrical baseline check – it looks like it’s gonna work, but you don’t really know what it’s gonna work until it’s actually done a measurement.  And then once you’ve done the measurement, you wonder how well it’s done compared to all the calibration and baseline testing that you’ve done before you launched the spacecraft.  And so, each day we go through that; and as we turn these on – as one of our team members from Texas decided to call them – we have a ‘hootin’ and hollerin’ moment’; and everybody’s jumpin’ up and down in the science team and we get all excited about that.

“But in the end, what basically happens, and with the SAM [Sample Analysis at Mars – ed.] instrument in particular… SAM just comes last.  It’s at the end of the sample processing chain; it’s also an extremely complicated instrument – it’s practically its own mission… and when it works for the first time we have a ‘hootin’ and hollerin’ moment’; but when it works for the second time, you get something that all scientists live by, which is a ‘repeat analysis’.  You see that what you saw the first time is probably not going to go away.  And then when you do the third sample and the configuration is pretty much the same it was the first time, you believe maybe this just might be one for the history books, that this is going to stand the time of test [sic] as a legitimate analysis on the surface of Mars.  That’s basically where we were at with that excitement by the Science Team.

“So the nature of scientific discovery, especially in this business, is also very important.  We live by multiple working hypotheses: as Paul mentioned, even though his instrument detected organic compounds, first of all we have to demonstrate that they’re indigenous to Mars.  Then after that, we can engage in the question about whether they represent the background fall of cosmic materials that are organic in composition that fall on the surface of every terrestrial planet; and then after that we can begin into the more complex questions of  whether or not this might be some type of a biological material.  But that’s well down the road for us to get to.

“And, finally: serendipity.  As any of us that have worked on the Earth understand: on a planet that is teeming with life, you can go out into rocks that are billions of years old, and the probability of finding something that is actually a sign of life – or even something as simple as an organic material – those discoveries are so rare that every time we find one it makes it into ‘Science’ and ‘Nature’ [universally respected peer reviewed journals – ed.].  Every new discovery… new occurrence is actually a major discovery.  So we have to take our time, and it’s gonna take a bit of luck; but it is serendipity because we’re gonna think it through well ahead of time and go about this exploration in the most intelligent way that we can, using all of our instruments.  What this mission about [sic] is integrated science; there’s not going to be one single moment when we all stand up and, on the basis of a single measurement have a ‘halleluja moment’.  What it’s gonna take is everything that you heard by my colleagues and all the other P.I.s [principal investigators – ed.] that build all their instruments, we’re gonna pull it all together and we’re gonna take our time, and then after that if we’ve found something significant, we’ll be happy to report that.

“So finally, then: where are we headed?  Well, at this point, basically, our car is ready to go.  This is a car that comes with a ten-thousand-page user manual that we also have to write as we read it; and, you know, that’s where the patience comes in.  But we’re getting closer; we’re getting ready to go here now; we have one major test ahead of us which is the drilling; and we hope to do that and get started on that before the holidays begin; and then sometime early next year we’re gonna pack it up and start driving towards Mt. Sharp, which is the reason we picked this site; and it has what, from orbit, looked like a lot of materials that we’re interested in.  So we’re gonna load up the car with the science team, uh, you know… we’ve been at the gas station; we’ve gassed it up, checked the oil, uh, you know, we’re gonna kick the tires around a little bit but then we’re ready for our trip and that’s when our science mission of exploration really gets into full gear.”

[Questions from audience:]

Q: “Hi, I’m Alex Witze with Science News for Dr. Grotzinger: Can you just take us through how you go about figuring out whether these organics are indigenous to Mars or not?  Just [employing? in boring?] chemistry detail.”

A:  [Grotzinger]: “I’ll pass that one to Paul, but lemme just first reiterate the sort of ‘high level’ approach before Paul gets into more of the details of the chemistry.  So: you make a measurement… and what we know is that the instrument is performing perfectly well; it’s very, very sensitive, so that we know that the instrument has detected simple organic molecules.  Then after that, you have to do a series of tests to verify that the organics that you’ve measured have not come from Earth; and there are a number of ways that we could bring them with us.  Remember: the reason that we chose the soil is to try to clean out all that hardware; and we cleaned it as best as we can on Earth but there’s no guarantees; and so we pass soil through it, shake it around, and then dump it out; take another gulp of soil, shake it around, dump it out.  We try to get it as clean as we can, but it could be riding along with the hardware.

“And then, within the instrument itself: there’s always a little bit of stuff that comes along every instrument that we make on Earth.  Even the most sensitive instruments carry materials along with them that you have to work through and understand their properties.  And then after that, if we believe that it’s indigenous to Mars, then we have to go through a second level of triage, which is to say: ‘O.K.: it’s on Mars, but maybe it didn’t come from Mars; it could be a material that comes from the cosmos.’  A lot of primordial material, as we know… there’s carbonaceous chondrites that, in some cases, have quite complex organic molecules in them.  And then after that then you begin by the context; and this is where the other instruments really come in and are so important because they’re the things that allow us to establish that maybe this isn’t something that actually came from space but this was actually something that formed in the environment, where the particles that make up the rock, where they were also accumulating… this was something that was being formed at the same time.  And then you have a pathway to decide whether or not those formation pathways are abiotic or may be, in the end, biologic.  And so there’s… as you can see, it’s a complicated decision pathway there and we have to explore each one systematically.  But, I’ll turn it over to Paul.”

[Paul Mahaffy]:  “Yeah… I mean… we’ve gone to great care with this mission to address the potential confusion that might be caused by terrestrial contamination.  The materials that we brought to mars with us – we’ve done a lot of analysis to understand what kind of gases they release that we might see.  We have a… what we call an ‘organic check material’: it’s a very pure vitreous silica glass; and we have that doped with [deliberately infused with – ed.] four very distinctive fluorocarbons.  And so, if we’re looking for terrestrial stuff not just inside of SAM, but stuff that might come from the sample processing chain, what we can do in the end to avoid confusion is we can drill into one of those five organic check materials, run that sample through, and really treat that as a blank.  And if we see the same stuff that we saw that we thought might be from Mars, from either some drilled rock or from soil, then we gotta say: ‘Hold the show a minute; this might be terrestrial stuff.’

“We do, even more routinely, we run blanks on… internal to SAM.  For every experiment that we did here, we ran, essentially, a blank beforehand and looked… there’s very trace residual amounts, for example, of our derivitization agent; a very little bit of vapor shows up.  We’ve seen some of this as we calibrated the instrument and so on.  That’s actually great ’cause it shows us that the chromatography  is working beautifully; but then if we see that when we have a solid sample in our cup, we go back to the blank and we said: ‘Oh, did we see that compound?’  And if the answer is ‘yes’, then it’s not from Mars.

“So, we’ll do all of those things; but what really helps also is the great flexibility of… you saw those bars [see figure 1 – ed.].  We can select different slices of evolved compounds to analyze with chromatography; we can have different temperature sequences on the sample, to release organics.  And so all those things combine, really, to get a story on whether, uh… give us confidence if what we’re seeing is from Mars or not from Mars.  So that work is ongoing.”

Q:  “Emily Lakdawalla from the Planetary Society; this question is for Paul:  I’m wondering how many of the compounds you’ve identified so far are ones that would be present as those compounds in the soil or if they’re all evolved from other compounds that are in the soil – and particularly interested in the chlorine compounds and the hydrogen sulfide.”

A:  [Paul Mahaffy]:  “Yeah… the question really relates to whether the compounds that we were showing might exist in the soil or whether they might be made as we do our experiment.

“It’s certainly very possible that there… in fact I would suggest very likely that they are made.  As we heat the sample up, the simple chloro… single carbon compounds are being released at the temperature that this oxygen signal is coming up… potentially a calcium perchlorate.  And so, with the high temperatures and chlorine being released, perhaps hydrogen chloride being released, it’s very reactive.  And then it latches on to whatever carbon is there and forms these very simple compounds.  So it’s very, very possible; I would say even likely that those compounds were not existing and we really made them as part of our experiment.”

[Transcript produced by Independent Workers Party of Chicago, 15 January 2013.  All errors are our own.]

SPOILER ALERT! NASA Squashes Rumors of Impending Announcement of Major Discovery on Mars

The capitalist news media has been pushing rumors that NASA was about to hold a news conference announcing that a major discovery has recently been made on the Red Planet by the Mars Science Laboratory (a.k.a. “Curiosity”).

This rumor-mongering was started, inadvertently, by Dr. John Grotzinger of Caltech, who made some intriguing allusions to big news coming out of the MSL program just in time for X-mas during a NASA teleconference a few weeks ago.

Today, NASA published a press release downplaying the rumors, which were beginning to focus on an upcoming news conference to be presented by MSL scientists at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which will be held in San Francisco on December 3rd.

Today’s NASA press release stated baldly that “[r]umors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect.  The news conference will be an update about first use of the rover’s full array of analytical instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil. One class of substances Curiosity is checking for is organic compounds — carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life. At this point in the mission, the instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics.”

Audio and visuals from the 3 December NASA/AGU press conference will be broadcast live on USTREAM.  The text of today’s no-fun bubble-bursting press release from the wet blanket brigade over at NASA is available here.

So tell everyone to put their tinfoil hats back into storage – “little green men” have not been discovered on Mars.  And the religious leaders of the world can breathe a big sigh of relief – for now.  Life has not been discovered on another planet, utterly destroying thousands of years of mythologizing “the uniqueness of God’s creation here on Earth”.

Yet.

IWPCHI

Defend “Charlie Hebdo”! For the Complete Separation of Church/Temple/Mosque and State!

The world was treated to a wave of religious fanaticism this week as right-wing fundamentalist Islamic preachers ordered their slavish followers to take to the streets in an orgy of anger over – some right-wing Jewish guy’s stupid anti-Islam movie!  From Indonesia to France Islamic extremists surged into the streets to express their outrage over an incident that, in fact, will do absolutely no harm at all to any believer in their religion.  The mullahs, the woman-hating, money-grubbing preachers of Islam, who spread their creed as if it was the answer to all the world’s needs – which it is decidedly not – and who demand that their followers follow them so blindly as to be willing to do anything to anyone who opposes these clerical misfits – including murder – must be opposed by all class conscious workers everywhere – including in majority-Muslim countries.  The power of these reactionary scum over the minds of the working class must be shattered.

Islam is a hugely popular religion, with hundreds of millions of followers worldwide.  Any Islamic preacher who tells his followers that the existence of a lousy movie is a threat to the existence of their religion is nothing but a liar and a charlatan.  These Islamic “leaders” must have very little faith in the power of their ideas if they think for a minute that someone could destroy Islam simply by making a video that insults it.  These cretinous Islamic fundamentalists obviously have ulterior motives: to force their followers to commit outrages against anyone who dares to oppose these mullahs.  These protests aren’t about religion per se: they are about the mullahs’ ability to control the minds of human beings and to get them to commit any criminal act – including murder – on demand of the religious leaders.  This is a mind-control experiment that seeks to turn decent human beings into killers for Islam.  These criminals who call themselves “religious leaders” and who then demand that those who they deem to be a threat to Islam be murdered should be thrown in jail like the dangerous criminal they are.  A movie is not – and cannot be – a threat to Islam any more than a cartoon can make devout Muslims turn into apostates.  Anyone who believes the opposite is a fool who shows how little they really believe in their own religion.

As if getting your turban in a twist every time some asshole makes a movie insulting your religion isn’t enough, these same ignorant religious bigots are going crazy because the French satirical magazine  “Charlie Hebdo” is this week publishing some cartoons that allegedly make fun of Mohammad.  Big deal!  Let them make fun – it is their right to do so.  A cartoon – no matter how funny or insulting, or even racist it is – does not possess some magical power to bring the Islamic world to its doom.  However, this ignorant bigoted attack on the freedom of speech and freedom of the press does.

The European nations went through a long period of religious bigotry and ignorance just like this one back when the Catholic Church ruled over Europe with an iron fist, ordering “heretics” to be burnt at the stake for such hideous “crimes” as denying the existence of the Trinity.  Millions of peasants and workers who were deemed to be too irreligious or not sufficiently intellectually subjugated to the whims and crazy imaginings of the Pope in Rome were summarily arrested, subjected to hideous tortures and murdered for their “impiety”.  It took a struggle of hundreds of years against the all-powerful hierarchy of the Catholic Church to bring the priesthood to heel.  Revolutionary struggles to topple monarchies allied with the Pope took place throughout Europe which finally brought the Church down to Earth.  The Enlightenment philosophers, often using barely-hidden satires of leading Catholic Popes and Bishops and their followers, exposed the Church to intense criticism and led the advanced, enlightened workers and intellectuals to organize political movements dedicated to the creation of more liberal governments that broke the stranglehold of the Catholic Church over the people and forced a strict separation of church and state to be put into place.  This finally put an end to the hideous excesses of the Catholic Church and its most fanatical advocates, who had gone so far as to create the monstrosity known as the “Holy Inquisition”, whose pious, criminal leaders tortured and executed millions of unfortunates who refused to kiss the Pope’s ass.

This hard-won victory of reason over religious superstition and intolerance – which we call the “Separation of Church and State” – which came at the cost of the lives of so many human beings must never be surrendered by the working class!  Never again will we suffer at the hands of an ignorant priesthood that seeks to amass hundreds of millions of dollars of wealth through the indoctrination of workers into the belief that human beings here on Earth are having daily conversations with some sky god, who is telling these idiot priests that if the working people don’t get together and mass-murder unbelievers, then this sky-god will come down and kill us all.  That trick will never again work against us!  The mullahs who think that they can force those of us who live in countries where the power of the priesthood has been irreversibly shattered by revolutions in the 17th and 18th centuries will allow them to reverse that verdict of history against their once unlimited power are sadly mistaken!  The defense of the right of freedom of speech and freedom to criticize and satirize religions of all kinds is something that must be taken up by all bona fide working-class organizations.  Never again will an ignorant priesthood run roughshod over the minds and bodies of our working class brothers and sisters on this planet!

Islam has made tremendous contributions to human society and has given the world such wonderful gifts as: algebra; tremendous discoveries and observations in astronomy; the very Arabic numerals we use every day!; beautiful poetry; marvelous literature and historical writings; magnificent architectural achievements, to name a few.  If it wasn’t for Islam, whose scholars hundreds of years ago carefully collected and preserved many ancient manuscripts that were at the time being collected – and burnt! – by the Roman Catholic Church – much of what little we know of the literature of the ancient, pre-Christian world.  The debt the workers of the world owe to the Islamic world for all these marvelous contributions to world civilization is incalculable.

The Independent Workers Party welcomes immigrant workers from all nations and from all religions into our organization, on one condition – that they fully accept the principle that there must be a complete separation of Church/Mosque/Temple and State!  This is not negotiable.  We will not stand for religious bigots going around demanding that if artists and comedians -and even disgusting bigots like the guy who made this movie – don’t obey the commands of the mullahs, they will be attacked, beaten up and/or killed.  Never again will we allow a gang of religious freaks to rampage through our cities threatening “unbelievers” with summary execution.  The days of the Inquisition, the Witch Trials and religious persecution must end.  We welcome those followers of the Prophet Muhammad to our shores who understand these concepts, and we will defend even to the death your right to worship in any way you choose.  But do not imagine for a moment that the working class of the United States will ever allow Islamic fundamentalists to cause us to sit down and shut up and refuse to use our hard-earned freedoms to ridicule any and all religions in any way we choose.

There is much that is ridiculous in ALL religions.  In the United States, parodies of Catholicism have long existed and are enormously popular – the great movie “Life of Brian” by Monty Python comes to mind, as well as Mel Brooks’ wonderful “History of the World” films.  Islam is way overdue for such a treatment; and if these right-wing Muslim zealots continue to rampage across the face of the planet physically assaulting everyone who thinks that, say, the fact that Muhammad had sex with a 9-year old girl he had taken as a wife, for example, is absurd and monstrous – then we in the IWP have a major problem with that.

When the movie “Life of Brian” came out, it was immediately subjected to verbal attack and its creators were even subjected to death threats by Christian bigots who tried mightily to censor the film and keep it from being seen – all to no avail!  Because their power to rule over the minds of the citizens of our nations was irreversibly shattered back in the 1700s!  They marched, they wrote sermons attacking the movie and they went on TV to denounce it and all they got for their efforts was a massive outpouring of support for the film.

We remember with great fondness going to see “Life of Brian” back when it came out in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1980s.  The lines waiting to see the film were going all the way down the street, while would-be Christian censors stood impotently outside the theatre, vainly imploring us not to go see the film. We gleefully made fun of them!  We laughed at them, pathetic as they were! Probably at least half the people there might never have bothered to go and see the movie if it were not for the ridiculous hue-and-cry raised by the religious bigots of the Christian right wing who absurdly attempted to impose their religious beliefs on the citizens of the United States 300 years after their power to do so had been irretrievably shattered!  This is exactly what should happen all over the world if ever some intelligent satirists finally get around to making a parody of the Koran that isn’t racist.  We would quite happily attend such a movie, and should anyone try to stop us, they would face the wrath of the working class, who would treat them in precisely the same way that we treat Nazis when they try to march in our working-class cities and towns!

The analogy between the right-wing religious bigots of the Islamic world and Nazis is quite apt.  Though there are major differences between the two, their methods are very similar: “what we say goes, and if you don’t get down on your knees and obey us, we will kill you!”  This isn’t Iran or Saudi Arabia.  What Islamic bigots say; or Christian or Jewish or any other religious zealot says DOES NOT “GO” here today; and we will do everything in our power to make certain that it never does in the future!

The capitalist governments of Europe and the US are all falling over themselves to placate these hideous woman-hating, ignorant fundamentalist Mullahs and their insolent demands that we workers in the West should obey them and their religion.  These scum – who were only a marginal force in the Middle East, even in Iran, until the United States armed and trained them to attack the USSR during the Cold War – are now powerful forces in many countries, able to force whole nations to get on their knees at their command.  The capitalists’ hypocritical mewlings in fake “defense” of the supposed “right” of Islamic bigots to “not be offended” is really only an expression of the capitalists’ fear that all the anti-Western protests will interfere with their ability to continue to rob the workers of the Islamic world blind.  We do not support the disgusting attacks on Muslims and the right of women to wear the veil that have been promulgated by the political servants of the French capitalist class.  Women have the right to wear whatever they want in public – including the chador – so long as they choose to do so of their own free will.  We do not support the racist anti-immigrant policies of the French government that seeks to drive Muslim workers into ghettos and out of France.  These workers are our sisters and brothers and they should be welcome in France as we welcome them here in the United States.  We stand for full citizenship rights for all immigrants, of all nationalities and religions – even Islamic fundamentalists.  But the working class will not stand for religious bigots of any religion going around physically attacking people who they disagree with.

We salute “Charlie Hebdo” and their courageous defense of the right to free speech and the separation of church and state in France – where the Great French Revolution destroyed the stranglehold of religious bigotry and superstition once and for all. We call on the revolutionary French working class to rise to the defense of freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom of the press by defending the offices and workers at “Charlie Hebdo” against any and all attacks by Islamic fundamentalist bigots the same as we would here in the US if the “National Lampoon” grew some balls and decided to take on such a worthy target of ridicule as the Islamic fundamentalist Mullahs and was then attacked for it – or if either was being attacked by a gang of Nazis.  When these Islamic bigots attempt to silence those who merely criticize or hold them to ridicule, we say: “Acquaint these Islamic fundamentalist lunatics’ heads with the pavement!”  We will do the same here.

IWPCHI

South African Scientists Announce Discovery of New A. Sediba Skeleton at Malapa Site

Exclusive: photos at end of article from University of the Witwatersrand’s Institute for Human Evolution!

Palaeontologists at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa have announced, July 12, the discovery of a new Australopithecus sediba fossil encased in a 1-meter-square block of stone, found at the Malapa site in the Cradle of Humankind in South Africa.  The stone had been discovered in 2009 and had sat in the University’s laboratories since then.  The rock was deemed to be of importance because a fossil hominid tooth was discernible in a crevice on the outer surface of the rock.  The find was transferred to the University for further study, but it was not until last month that a CT scan revealed “parts of a jaw and critical aspects of the body including what appear to be a complete femur (thigh bone), ribs, vertebrae and other important limb elements, some never before seen in such completeness in the human fossil record,” according to Professor Lee Berger, Reader in Palaeoanthropology and the Public Understanding of Science at the Wits Institute for Human Evolution.  “This discovery will almost certainly make Karabo the most complete early human ancestor skeleton ever discovered. We are obviously quite excited as it appears that we now have some of the most critical and complete remains of the skeleton, albeit encased in solid rock. It’s a big day for us as a team and for our field as a whole.”

The Australopithecus sediba fossils that have been discovered so far have been found to be approximately 2 million years old.    The first specimen was found by Prof. Berger’s nine-year old son, who was out with his dad at what has come to be known as the Malapa site searching for fossils in August of 2008.

The site has since produced some amazing finds.  “Since its discovery in August 2008, the site of Malapa has yielded well over 240 bones of early hominins representing more than five individuals, including the remains of babies, juveniles and adults.”

“The team studying these fossils is one of the largest ever assembled in the history of archaeology or palaeontology. With more than 80 scientists, students and technicians from across the globe involved in the study, the team includes expert geologists, computer specialists, functional morphologists, anatomists and physicists.”

The new discovery was to be announced today, July 13, 2012, by Prof. Berger in Shanghai, China at the new Science and Technology Museum there.

In addition, in a first for palaeontology, the extraction of the hominid fossils from the rock will be broadcast live on the Internet, in a joint collaborative effort by The University of the Witwatersrand, The Gauteng (South Africa) Provincial Government, The South African Government and the National Geographic Society.

“A laboratory studio, designed in collaboration with the National Geographic Society, will be built at the Maropeng Visitor Centre in the heart of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. It will allow the public to view the preparation of this skeleton live if they visit Maropeng, or live on the internet. ‘The public will be able to participate fully in Live Science and future discoveries as they occur in real time – an unprecedented moment in palaeoanthropology,’ explains Berger. ‘The laboratory studio will be also linked to laboratories at Wits University and the Malapa site.’

” ‘We are excited to have helped make this cutting-edge facility possible for the University of the Witwatersrand,’ says National Geographic Executive Vice President Terry Garcia. ‘We can’t wait to watch palaeontology happening in real time.’ ”

The details of the broadcast times and website locations apparently have yet to be finalized, but are expected to be announced soon.

[Sources: University of the Witwatersrand website, “Frequently Asked Questions”; ““New Sediba Fossils Found in Rock”]

The following photos were provided by the University of the Witwatersrand via their website as well:

The Malapa Site_21 May 09
(Courtesy University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)

The Malapa Site_ 21 May 09
(Courtesy, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)

Fossil 1: The rock containing the skeleton.
(Courtesy, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)

Fossil 13: The rock containing the skeleton inside also contains antelope fossils visible on the outside.
(Courtesy, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)

Fossil 2: The small tooth (in the centre) that was spotted and led to the discovery of the skeleton in the rock.
(Courtesy, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)

Fossil 4: Justin Mukanku from the Wits Institute of Human Evolution spotted the tooth.
(Courtesy, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)

Prof. Lee Berger and Wilma Lawrence with the rock containing the skeleton.
(Courtesy, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)

The Malapa skeletons
(Courtesy, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)

Prof. Lee Berger with the skeleton of Karabo
(Courtesy, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Institute for Human Evolution)