Is science sometimes in danger of getting tunnel vision? Recently published ebook author, Ian Miller, looks at other possible theories arising from data that we think we understand. Can looking problems in a different light give scientists a different perspective?

Carbonaceous Mars

July was a good month for my planetary formation theory. Of eleven meteorites known to have originated from Mars, one of which is approximately 4 Gy old, ten of them had carbonaceous material embedded in their basalts (Steele et al., Science 337: 212). My theory requires that carbon on the rocky planets had to be accreted as solids (carbon, carbides or carbonaceous material) and the atmospheres arise through this material becoming oxidised by water when temperatures of the rock get above about six hundred degrees centigrade. This will give rise to a mixture of carbon dioxide and methane, the extreme pressures causing carbon monoxide to largely further react. I argue that due to the expected chemical isotope effect during this oxidation, this reaction is the source of a significant contribution to the deuterium enhancement on planets, especially Venus but to a lesser extent on Mars. I also argue the reason Venus has almost no water is in part because it accreted at a higher temperature so it accreted less, and because it has more carbon, it used most of its water making its oppressive atmosphere, thus amplifying the chemical isotope effect.
In my ebook I made over 80 predictions, but I never had the nerve to predict that Martian basalts would contain carbonaceous material, although I did predict this for Mercury. There were two reasons. The first was that I expected the surface of Mars would be too oxidised, and little carbon could remain. The second was that I was aware of the meteorites, I knew that no carbonaceous material had been reported, and it never occurred to me that the reason why not was that nobody had looked!
While on the subject of primordial atmospheres, standard theory requires that reduced nitrogen arose from oxidation of atmospheric nitrogen, with nitrous and nitric acids subsequently being dissolved in the acidic seawater and then being reduced. Nitrites are reduced at about 70 degrees C over pyrites, nitrates at about 120 degrees, and of course it is usually argued that this would happen at black smokers. My argument was that nitrous acid is not good to have in the presence of the amines needed for life as it would diazotize them, but I also learned (Heilman et al. JACS 134: 11573) that nitrosyl compounds act as a source of NO, which in turn is a powerful antibiotic, which is hardly the most desirable environment for bacteria to try evolving. (If the atmosphere was primarily carbon dioxide, the ancient seas would be rich in ferrous ions from weathered basalts, and hence nitrosyl compounds should form.) The antibiotic properties of NO have been known for some time; it was just that (blush) I did not know it.
Posted by Ian Miller on Aug 5, 2012 12:35 AM Europe/London

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