Asphalt Aftermath

mei 12th, 2008

Robert Smitson
Asphalt Rundown, 1969

robert smitson

Smithson’s interest in the second law of thermodynamics completely dominated his life and work. Much of his art is associated with the concept of entropy: the law that states that molecular disorder can only increase, and as such the universe will eventually run down (a law that has since been discredited). In this piece, liquid asphalt slides from the dump truck and runs down an eroded hill in a quarry near Rome, Italy forming an abstract expressionist canvas. However, the work cannot only be considered aesthetically –we’re forced to consider the ecology (What is the damage being done? Who will clean this up? How will the earth recover?). By performing an act with the weapon of urban sprawl–asphalt–we are forced to look at the effects of industrialization on the landscape under a hard light. – D. Scott Hessels –

Robert Smitson died in a plane crash while photographing a work in Texas, called Amarillo Ramp (1973), consisting of a 140 foot diameter partial circle of rock, which rises out of the level ground to a height of around 15 feet. The artificial lake in which the piece once emerged is now dry, and the sculpture is slowly eroding.

robert smitson amarillo

Biomimetic Chair

mei 2nd, 2008

Ai Weiwei
Monumental Junkyard, 2006
each 210 x 80 cm

Ai weiwei monumental junkjard

Marble Chair, 2008
125 x 52 x 50 cm

Ai weiwei marble chair

“The marble chair is made from a solid piece of a stone into a chair, into something which ironically overthrew the idea of the wooden classic chair. The work as one piece is strongly against its own form, its own way of structure. In the kind of making it really dismisses its own meaning. I enjoy that part.” – Ai Weiwei –

Joris Laarman
Bone Chair

joris laarman bone chair

Joris Laarman’s Bone chair takes its inspiration from the efficient way that bones grow (adding material where strength is needed and taking away material where it’s unnecessary). Made using a digital tool developed by GM that copies these methods of construction, Laarman says the ironic result of his biomimetic technique is “an almost historic elegancy” that is “far more efficient compared to modern geometric shapes.”

If evolution could create a chair…
Trees have the ability to add material where strength it is needed. But bones also have the ability to take away material where it is not needed. With this knowledge the International Development Centre Adam Opel GmbH, a part of General Motors Engineering Europe created a dynamic digital tool to copy these ways of constructing used for optimizing car parts. In a way it quite precisely copies the way evolution constructs. I didn’t use it to create the next worlds perfect chair but as a high tech sculpting tool to create elegant shape with a kind of legitimacy. The chair is the first in a series and the process can be applied to any scale until architectural sizes in any material strength…

credits to: Prof. Dr. Mattheck, Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe and Gravotech B.V.

Geological Graffiti

maart 24th, 2008


This is an extreme closeup scan (2400 dpi) of a paint chip retrieved from the ruins of Belmont Art Park from a piture taken by Amy McKenzie earlier this year. The fragment is about 1cm thick, and appears to consist of about 150-200 layers of paint.

Egyptian Theatre, Los Angeles

egyptian-theatre1.jpg egyptian-theatre2.jpg

The construction team currently restoring the 1922 Egyptian Theater, the American Cinematheque’s future home on Hollywood Boulevard, is engaged in a peculiar form of archeological excavation. Bound by federal laws dictating what renovations are permissible within a designated historic landmark and required to create a space suitable for contemporary media arts exhibitions, the workers peel back layers of piaster, paint and drywall. In the process they have revealed fragments of a 1960s-era mural, a hybrid of psychedelic and Egyptian styles, and, several layers beneath this, what remains of the original pastel and art deco ’20s decor. The excavation of successive false fronts and simulations suggests an architectural model for urban memory. Each layer reworks not a lost original but rather a prior approximation.

Plastic Plankton

maart 6th, 2008

‘Everybody’s plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic.’ – Andy Warhol


A “floating landfill, made up of plastic particles is swirling in a convergence zone about 30 to 40 degrees north latitude and 135 to 145 west longitude. It’s about 1,000 miles west of California and 1,000 miles north of the Hawaiian Islands — a week’s journey by boat from the nearest port. The trash collects in one area, known as the North Pacific Gyre, due to a clockwise trade wind that circulates along the Pacific Rim. While the plastic trash floats along, instead of biodegrading, it is “photodegrading,” — the sun’s UV rays turn the bottle brittle, much like they would crack the vinyl on a car roof. They break down the bottle into small pieces and, in some cases, into particles as fine as dust.

Charles Moore, the marine researcher at the Algalita Marina Research Foundation in Long Beach who has been studying and publicizing the patch for the past 10 years, said the debris — which he estimates weighs 3 million tons and covers an area twice the size of Texas — is made up mostly of fine plastic chips and is impossible to skim out of the ocean. Also, it’s undetectable by overhead satellite photos because it’s 80 percent plastic and therefore translucent. The plastic moves just beneath the surface, from one inch to depths of 300 feet, according to samples Moore collected on the most recent trip. (1)


Ironically, the debris is re-entering the oceans whence it came; the ancient plankton that once floated on Earth’s primordial sea gave rise to the petroleum now being transformed into plastic polymers. That exhumed life, our “civilized plankton,” is, in effect, competing with its natural counterparts, as well as with those life-forms that directly or indirectly feed on them. Inside the North Pacific Gyre the natural plankton is outnumbered 6 to 1 in favor of the plastic plankton. The large ratio of plastic to plankton found in this study has the potential to affect many types of biota. Most susceptible are the birds and filter feeders that focus their feeding activities on the upper portion of the water column. Many birds have been examined and found to contain small debris in their stomachs, a result of their mistaking plastic for food


Worldwide, 82 of 144 bird species examined contained small debris in their stomachs, and in many species the incidence of ingestion exceeds 80% of the individuals.

The scale of the phenomenon is astounding. Plastic debris in now the most common surface feature of the world’s oceans. Because 40 percent of the oceans are classified as subtropical gyres, a fourth of the planet’s surface area has become an accumulator of floating plastic debris. What can be done with this new class of products made specifically to defeat natural recycling? How can the dictum “In ecosystems, everything is used” be made to work with plastic? (2)

plastic land

(1) Based on a text by Justin Berton / San Francisco Chronicle
(2) Based on a text by Charles Moore

Paleontologic Time Travel

maart 3rd, 2008

La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles

La Brea Tar pits

La Brea Tar pits2

Rancho La Brea is one of the world’s most famous fossil localities, recognized for having the largest and most diverse assemblage of extinct Ice Age plants and animals in the world. Radiometric dating of preserved wood and bones has given an age of 38,000 years for the oldest known material from the La Brea seeps, and they are still ensnaring organisms today.

The Page Museum is located next to the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in the heart of Los Angeles. Through windows at the Page Museum Laboratory, visitors can watch bones being cleaned and repaired. Outside the Museum, in Hancock Park, life-size replicas of several extinct mammals are featured.


Sculs of the saber-toothed cat, Page Museum Los Angeles, 2008

La Brea Tar pits lab

La Brea Tar Pits lab, Page Museum Los Angeles, 2008

The collections document the Rancho La Brea biota and include some 3.5 million specimens representing over 600 species of animals and plants. The site-specific collections also include geological samples, archaeological artifacts and historical objects. The Tar Pits function as black wormholes where the past gets mingled with the future. Every day object from the past come up and new once from the present disappear inside the pits to be discovered by the next generation archaeologists. Every sample will be washed and cleaned and puzzled back together again in order to understand the future past.



future tar pits



future tar pits2

Eslöv Meteorite

november 3rd, 2007

meteor impact
meteor impact at 06.41 am

In the early morning of the 3rd of november 2007 a meteor hit Eslöv, known as the most boring town of Sweden. It was an unexpected event that was witnessed only by a few. The energy of the blast was estimated to be between 1 and 2 megatons of TNT and left a hole of 15 metres in diameter in a field near Eslöv. The meteorite was dug up by Maarten Vanden Eynde and put on display in front of the Medborgarhuset in the framework of the 2nd Eslöv Biennale.

meteor crater
meteor crater near Eslöv

meteor impact drawing

Eslöv Biennale II
03/11 – 30/11/2007: Medborgarhuset, Eslöv, Sweden

The 2007 Biennale is a wide exhibition that offers a regional and national sample of the art of today with international flavours. The elements of the Biennale is like a sweep through the art-world with everything from visual art to sound-art, conceptualism and performance. The location for the Biennale is part of the experience. Medborgarhuset (Civic Hall) has flourished during the last year and is building a reputation as a centre of events. In architectural circles the Civic Hall in Eslöv is known as the most ambitious building in Sweden in the post-war period. It was 1947 when the young, newly-qualified architect Hans Asplund´s proposal won the competition to design Eslöv´s Civic Hall, which was built and completed in 1957. At the same time he build the United Nations building in New York for which he used many similar materials.


City Jewels

juni 24th, 2007

Jeroen Jongeleen
influenza / city jewels, 1998-2007

Jeroen Jongeleen 1

Jeroen Jongeleen 2

Jeroen Jongeleen 3

more works

Marvelous Marble

juni 2nd, 2007

Four Framed Hardstone Panels
English (in imitation of an Italian typology)

Contemporary Archaeology - marble
Getty Center, Los Angeles

Based on a type of inlay dating to the 15oos, specimen plaques such as these were popular from the 1700s as celebrations of nature’s beauty and of the human ability to classify such marvels scientifically.

Wim Delvoye

Marble Floors, 1999

wim delvoye

Known for his exceptional transformations of images and objects using processes typically associated with the applied arts (i.e. wood-carving, stained glass, tattoo), Delvoye in his “Marble Floors” has photographed “charcuterie”– precision cut salami, chorizo, mortadella and ham, arranged in geometric patterns based on Italian Baroque and Islamic motifs. The visceral and sometimes unsettling effect this body of work can have on a viewer is balanced by the perfect order and rhythmic harmony of these familiar Baroque and Islamic patterns.

wim delvoye 2

Jan Fabre
De benen van de rede ontveld, 2000
(Legs stripped from reason)

jan fabre

Jan Fabre is an artist, theatre-maker and author. He was born in Antwerp in 1958. In the late seventies he studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Art and the Municipal Institute of Decorative Arts and Crafts in Antwerp. His first works date from that period. Jan Fabre makes installations, sculptures, drawings, films and performances. Over the years he has built up a sizeable body of work and has become internationally acclaimed.
In 2000 he wrapped the respectable columns of the Aula University building in Ghent, Belgium with layers of ham. Slowly the ham started to rot and turned green of fungi, imitating the marble structure even more. The commotion was incredible. The citizens of Ghent complained that it was such a waste of good food (thinking of all the poor people around). Initially the exhibition organisation replied that it was secondary Parma ham, ready to thrown away anyway, but the Parma ham company declared that they don’t have secondary ham. All their ham is prime meat! When the smell was unbearable, the work was removed.

jan fabre 2

Preservation of the Berlin Wall

mei 20th, 2007

Maarten Vanden Eynde
Preservation of the Berlin Wall, 2007

Maarten Vanden Eynde Preservation of the Berlin Wall

Maarten Vanden Eynde Preservation of the Berlin Wall 2

The Berlin Wall, known in the Soviet Union and in the German Democratic Republic as the “Anti-Fascist Protective Rampart,” was a separation barrier between West Berlin and East Germany, which closed the border between East and West Berlin for 28 years. Construction on the Berlin Wall began on August 13, 1961, and it was dismantled in the weeks following November 9, 1989. The Wall was over 155 km (96 miles) long. A no man’s land was created between the barriers, which became widely known as the “death strip”. It was paved with raked gravel, making it easy to spot footprints left by escapees; it offered no cover; it was booby-trapped with tripwires; and, most importantly, it offered a clear field of fire to the watching guards.

Over the years, the Wall went through four distinct phases:

1. Basic wire fence (1961)
2. Improved wire fence (1962-1965)
3. Concrete wall (1965-1975)
4. Grenzmauer 75 (Border Wall 75) (1975-1989)

The “fourth generation wall”, known officially as “Stützwandelement UL 12.11″(Retaining wall element UL 12.11), was the final and most sophisticated version of the Wall. Begun in 1975 and completed about 1980, it was constructed from 45,000 separate sections of reinforced concrete, each 3.6 m high and 1.2 m wide, and cost 16,155,000 East German Marks. The top of the wall was lined with a smooth pipe, intended to make it more difficult for escapers to scale it. It was reinforced by mesh fencing, signal fencing, anti-vehicle trenches, barbed wire, over 116 watchtowers, and twenty bunkers. This version of the Wall is the one most commonly seen in photographs, and surviving fragments of Wall in Berlin and elsewhere around the world are generally pieces of the fourth-generation Wall.

Berlin Wall
Maarten Vanden Eynde, Berlin Wall, 2006

‘For the exhibition Turn to Stone in the Museo Mineralogico Campano I send a postcard to the museum containing a small plastic box with a piece of the Berlin Wall. I donated the work to the director with the specific question to preserve the Berlin Wall by adopting the piece in the permanent collection. He agreed and from now on the postcard stands in the display surrounded by other mineral stones.
The small stone contains the story of the whole wall and preserves an important part of human history. It represents World War II, the cold war, communisms and all the personal stories that are connected to the Berlin Wall. It’s a memory of the past for the future.’

Maarten Vanden Eynde Preservation of the Berlin Wall 3

Maarten Vanden Eynde Berlin Wall Letter

Stonehenge the Sequel

maart 28th, 2007

Jim Reinders
Carhenge, 1987


carhenge tourist

“Carhenge, which replicates Stonehenge, consists of the circle of cars, 3 standing trilithons within the circle, the heel stone, slaughter stone, and 2 station stones, and the Aubrey circle….

The artist of this unique car sculpture, Jim Reinders, experimented with unusual and interesting artistic creations throughout his life. While living in England, he had the opportunity to study the design and purpose of Stonehenge. His desire to copy Stonehenge in physical size and placement came to fruition in the summer of 1987 with the help of many family members.

Thirty-eight automobiles were placed to assume the same proportions as Stonehenge with the circle measuring approximately 96 feet in diameter. Some autos are held upright in pits five feet deep, trunk end down, while those cars which are placed to form the arches have been welded in place. All are covered with gray spray paint. The honor of depicting the heel stone goes to a 1962 Caddy.”

Adam Horowitz
Stonefridge, 1997


Atop the flat landscape on the edge of Santa Fe, among tumbleweeds and trash and the beauty of northern New Mexico’s skyline, “Stonefridge” catches your eye and confuses your mind like a mirage.

Refrigerators of all colors and shapes stand 18-feet high, lined up in a 100-foot diameter circle, facing inward toward a cluster of taller fridge towers. It’s as if the outer ring of fridges is worshipping these inner towers, or perhaps protecting them from the outside dangers.

Like Stonehenge, which is aligned to solar and lunar astronomical events, “Stonefridge” is geographically aligned to its own kind of power source: Los Alamos National Laboratories. Adam Horowitz, a critic of the atomic bomb, purposefully built the monument in a place where visitors can see the labs in the distance. He calls it an “atomic alignment.”

To Fix the Image in Memory

maart 20th, 2007

Vija Celmins
To Fix the Image in Memory (1977-82)

Vija Celmins

To Fix the Image in Memory places eleven small stones and their duplicates, made of painted cast bronze, onto a surface, challenging the viewer to decipher the real from the manmade and to question the relevance of the distinctions between real object and copy, nature and art. Culled from the area around the Rio Grande near Taos, New Mexico, where Celmins went to recover from the breakup of a romance in 1977, the stones have a magical, talismanic quality. They are all different shapes, colors and textures, ranging from the craggy to the phallic to the fecal, with interesting markings and lines on each.



“I got the idea for this piece while walking in northern New Mexico picking up rocks, as people do. I’d bring them home and I kept the good ones. I noticed that I kept a lot that had galaxies on them. I carried them around in the trunk of my car. I put them on window sills. I lined them up. And, finally, they formed a set, a kind of constellation. I developed this desire to try and put them into an art context. Sort of mocking art in a way, but also to affirm the act of making: the act of looking and making as a primal act of art.” By having each original rock installed with its duplicate, Celmins invites the viewer to examine them closely: “Part of the experience of exhibiting them together with the real stones,” she has said, “was to create a challenge for your eyes. I wanted your eyes to open wider.”


november 26th, 2006

Microfossil finds have been firmly established at about 3.5 Ga (giga annee=109 years), but no rocks older than about 4.0 Ga have been demonstrated, leaving the history of the first 0.6 Ga missing. This gap has been filled by models of the solar system. The origin term of the ocean, atmosphere, and much crustal material apparently lies in a heavy rain of comets, subsequent to the catastrophic Moon-forming event. The earliest microfossils are those of the Apex chert in Australia, about 3.5 Ga old. ‘Prebiotic’ simulations of possible biochemistry have made some progress in recent years, but many obstacles remain, and there is no agreement as to the course of development. The ‘ribose nucleic acid (RNA) World’, aboriginal ‘clay genes’, and catalysis on iron-sulfide precipitates are not ruled out. The search for the ‘last common ancestor’ has reached a point between the Bacteria and the Archaea. It is possible that this organism may have been a thermophile, similar to many modern hot spring organisms. But it is likely to have been an autotroph, and a late development after the true origin of life. Even more speculative are suggestions about the origins of metabolic sequences, in particular the origin of the genetic code. Since all modern organisms share this code (and many other things), there had to be a long history of development during the blank period of Earth history.


Slag Dobbelsteen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Slag Dobbelsteen is an artificial area near the planned Maasvlakte 2 in Rotterdam. It’s used for a wide variety of activities, like nude swimming, wind energy, surfing or diving in the inner sea (created by huge concrete dices functioning as wave breaker) to see the new biological entities living in the coolingwater of the factories of the port of Rotterdam. The Happy Shrimp Farm is using the warm water to breed shrimps. It is the first tropical shrimp farm in Europe and an example of a new eco-industrial company in the port of Rotterdam that benefits the economy and environment.
The greenhouse-enclosed farm is located on the dunes near the city of Rotterdam. It is co-sited near a power plant of E.ON Benelux utilizing the waste heat for warming the farm. You can also look out for new animals or species settling down in the area. Check this site for the statistics and spotted organisms.


november 21st, 2006

Current model

“In 1912, German meteorologist Alfred Wegener first put forward the theory of continental drift to describe the movement of major landmasses across the surface of the planet.
Initially, the theory was widely criticised but then later absorbed into the current, accepted model of continental dynamics known as plate tectonics.
Continents move at slower than a snail’s pace, like pieces of a puzzle, squeezing together and pulling apart to form oceans and landmasses of various sizes.
Movements deep within the Earth are thought to drive the whole process, although the exact mechanism is still being investigated.”
(Dr David Whitehouse)

In geology, Rodinia (from the Russian родина, or “motherland”) refers to one of the oldest known supercontinents, which contained most or all of Earth’s then-current landmass. Paleomagnetic evidence provides clues to the paleolatitude of individual formations, but not to their longitude, which geologists have pieced together by comparing similar strata, often now widely dispersed.


Geologic evidence suggests that Rodinia formed and broke apart in the Neoproterozoic, probably existing as a single continent from 1 billion years ago until it began to rift into eight smaller continents about 800 million years ago. It is thought to have been largely responsible for the cold climate of the Neoproterozoic era.

Rodinia began forming about 1.3 billion years ago from three or four pre-existing continents, an event known as the Grenville orogeny. The absence of fossils of hard-shelled organisms and reliable paleomagnetic data make the movements of continents earlier in the Precambrian, prior to this event, uncertain. (See Columbia for one possible reconstruction of an earlier supercontinent.)
The arrangement of Rodinia has been hypothesized using paleomagnetic data from the Seychelles islands and India and the Grenville mountain belts, which were formed by the Grenville orogeny and span multiple modern continents, as references.
Although the details are disputed by paleogeographers, the continental cratons that formed Rodinia appear to have clustered around Laurentia (proto-North America), which constituted Rodinia’s core.
It appears that the East Coast of Laurentia lay adjacent to the West Coast of South America, while a conjoined Australia and Antarctica seem to have lain against the proto-North American West Coast. A third craton, what would become north-central Africa, was caught in between these two colliding masses.
Other cratons such as the Kalahari (southern Africa), the Congo (west-central Africa), and the Sao Francisco (southeastern South American), appear to have been separate from the rest of Rodinia.


Rodinia’s landmass was probably centered south of the equator. Because Earth was at that time experiencing the Cryogenian period of glaciation, and temperatures were at least as cool as today, substantial areas of Rodinia may have been covered by glaciers or the southern polar ice cap. The interior of the continent, being so distant from the temperature-moderating effects of the ocean, was probably seasonally extremely cold. (See continental climate.) It was surrounded by the superocean geologists are calling Mirovia (from mir, the Russian word for “globe”).
Cold temperatures may have been exaggerated during the early stages of continental rifting. Geothermal heating peaks in crust about to be rifted; and since warmer rocks are less dense, the crustal rocks rise up relative to their surroundings. This rising creates areas of higher altitude, where the air is cooler and ice is less likely to melt with changes in season, and it may explain the evidence of abundant glaciation in the Ediacaran period.
The eventual rifting of the continents created new oceans, and seafloor spreading, which produces warmer less-dense rock, probably increased sea level by displacing ocean water. The result was a greater number of shallower oceans.
The evaporation from these oceans may have increased rainfall, which, in turn, increased the weathering of exposed rock. By inputting δ18O data into computer models, it has been shown that in conjunction with quick-weathering volcanic rock, this increased rainfall may have reduced greenhouse gas levels to below the threshold required to trigger the period of extreme glaciation known as Snowball Earth.
All of this tectonic activity also introduced into the marine environment biologically important nutrients, which may have played an important role in the development of the earliest animals.


In contrast to Rodinia’s formation, the movements of continental masses during and since its breakup are fairly well understood. Evidence of extensive lava flows and volcanic eruptions around the Precambrian-Cambrian boundary, especially in North America, suggest that Rodinia began to rift apart no later than 750 million years ago. Other continents, including Baltica and Amazonia, rifted off Laurentia 600 to 550 million years ago, opening the Iapetus Ocean between them. The separation also led to the birth of Panthalassic Ocean (or Paleo-Pacific)
The eight continents that made up Rodinia later re-assembled into another global supercontinent called Pannotia and, after that, once more as Pangaea.


Ore Genesis

november 18th, 2006

Maarten Vanden Eynde

Genetologic Research Nr. 25: Ore Crystal, 2006
60cm x 80cm x 160cm

Maarten Vanden Eynde Nr. 25

An ore is a volume of rock containing components or minerals in a mode of occurrence which renders it valuable for mining.
Rare samples of ore in the form of exceptionally beautiful crystals, exotic layering (when sectioned or polished) or metallic presentations such as large nuggets or chrystaline formations of metals such as gold or copper may command a value far beyond their value as mere ore or raw metal for subsequent reduction to utilitarian purposes.The grade or contained concentration of an ore mineral, or metal, as well as its form of occurrence, will directly affect the costs associated with mining the ore. The cost of extraction must thus be weighted against the contained metal value of the rock and a ‘cut-off grade’ used to define what is ore and what is waste.
Ore minerals are generally oxides, sulfides, silicates, or “native” metals (such as copper) that are not commonly concentrated in the Earth’s crust or “noble” metals (not usually forming compounds) such as gold. The ores must be processed to extract the metals of interest from the waste rock and from the ore minerals.
Ore bodies are formed by a variety of geological processes. The process of ore formation is called ore genesis.


The various theories of ore genesis explain how the various types of mineral deposits form within the Earth’s crust. Ore genesis theories generally involve three components: source, transport or conduit, and trap. This also applies to the petroleum industry, which was first to use this methodology.
Source is required because metal must come from somewhere, and be liberated by some process.
Transport is required first to move the metal bearing fluids or solid minerals into the right position, and refers to the act of physically moving the metal, as well as chemical or physical phenomenon which encourage movement.
Trapping is required to concentrate the metal via some physical, chemical or geological mechanism into a concentration which forms mineable ore.
The biggest deposits are formed when the source is large, the transport mechanism is efficient, and the trap is active and ready at the right time.

The Search for Extraterrestrial Life

februari 3rd, 2006

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration

In 1958, the United States Congress created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. Its purpose was to coordinate and conduct all aeronautical and space activites for the United States of America, except those of the military. Among the many programs which NASA now runs, one is the search for life outside our home planet. NASA is currently examining our neighbor planet Mars for signs of life, as well as the moons of other planets in our solar system. It has also developed highly advanced technology for the search of life outside of our own solar system, such as special radars and infrared telescopes.


For decades, debates have been common and fierce as to whether life existed on our closest eighboring planet, Mars. Many believed that other beings, Martians, did indeed exist, and were highly intelligent. Others claimed that there was no proof of this, and that life as we know it was, in fact, not possible due to the extreme conditions of the Martian environment. In 1976, NASA sent two landers, Viking I and Viking II, to the surface of Mars to determine if life did indeed exist. However, when these landers executed their experiments, they showed rather convincingly that there were no organic compounds above the one part per billion level in the upper few centimeters of the surface. The landers also reported on the extreme environment of Mars, with temperatures falling to 120o Fahrenheit (48.9oC) below 0 at night. So, for a while the debate subsided surrounding the existence of life on Mars.


In 1996, a meteor was found in Allan Hills, Antarctica. Upon examination, it was discovered that this meteor, which is 4.5 billion years old, fell to the earth 13,000 years ago, and possibly contained evidence of life on Mars. Inside the meteor, along tiny cracks, scientists found evidence of what many believe to be ancient bacteria.


There are four main clues which bring some scientists to this conclusion. One is that the meteorite is definitely of Martian origin and that it contains carbonate globules. The second is the presence of polycyclic aromatic compounds, which are complex organic molecules. The third piece of evidence is the presence of iron and other compounds which appear to be like those made by bacteria. The last, and perhaps most intriguing , is the pictures of the possible fossilized bacteria themselves. When taken separately, these pieces of evidence probably wouldnt amount to much. But what is compelling is that all of these pieces of evidence occurr within millimeters of each other.

However, skeptics still remain. Some simply arent sure, while others are certain that this meteorite contains no evidence of former life.. However, all agree that convincing evidence would contain proof that the fossils had cell walls, that the cells had been divided, and that chemicals more closely related to living organisms as we know them be found. And so, the debates continue. While these debates over ALH84001 occur, the science community continues its pursuit in finding signs of life, extant or extinct, on Mars.

Pathfinder, Sojourner

On July 4, 1997, a small spacecraft dropped onto Mars and tumbled to a stop. This pod, sent by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will be examining and doing tests on the Mars surface. This pod, called Pathfinder, will be sending signals back to Earth concerning the atmosphere and soil. It has also deployed a small land rover, similar to radio controlled cars.


This rover, called Sojourner, has been testing the Martian rocks for their minerals. In 2002, testing will be done on a different Mars probe to see if organic compounds or amino acids are present.If it finds amino acids buried in the surface, it will be testing to determine the chirality of the molecules. If they are homochiral, then that would be strong evidence that life existed at one point on Mars. If the amino acids are racemized, then it will be difficult to determine if they originated from life. In the next several years, NASA will be sending more space craft to Mars, to continue in its quest for extraterrestrial life.

Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

If you saw the movie Contact, written by Carl Sagan, you saw a lot of people with headphones listening to static coming from outer space. Then suddenly, one person is lucky enough to receive a signal from intelligent beings elsewhere in the universe. This may seem farfetched, but real people have actually been doing this for a living.

In 1959, a magazine article by Coccini and Morrison ignited widespread interest in the idea of searching for signals sent by intelligent beings in the universe. It was not until 1971, however, that the first international Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, meeting occurred. One year later, Oliver and Billingham, in a paper called the Cyclops Report, layed out five main points as to why an organization should be formed to officially handle the SETI issue. The conclusion that Oliver and Billingham came to in the Cyclops report was that a SETI institute should be created as an ongoing part of the total NASA space program, with its own funding and budget. In 1976, the first institutionalized SETI program within NASA was created as the SETI Program Office at Ames Research Center. In 1977, JPL created a SETI office.

Originally, the goal of SETI was to detect signals from outer space. To accomplish this, giant radar dishes were designed and built. In Arecibo, high in the mountains of Puerto Rico, a 305-meter radio telescopeis used to detect signals and survey the sky.


Its goal is to search for 800-1000 solar-type stars which are within 100 light years of the Ames Targeted Search Element. The goal of JPLs Sky Survey Element is to observe the entire sky with smaller, 34-meter telescopes. When the project is completed, it will have cost more than $108 million.

(Possible Mini Chem Window detailing the Cyclops report which sparked interest in SETI) The first item in their paper was that planetary systems were common, and that our solar system was in no way unique. Their second point was that many of these planetary systems contain at least one planet which is in the habitable zone. Oliver and Billingham also pointed out that, as shown by experiments by Miller and others, the organic compounds needed for the beginning of life may be formed in large quantities. The fourth point of the Cyclops Report was that stars typically have a life span long enough to support the evolution of life. Their last point was that if biological evolution did occur, then intelligent life would evolve.

Link to Mars:

Jim Plaxco
Martian Crater, 2005


Source: Mars Global Surveyor Narrow Angle Camera in July 1998.
The target area lies in the Cebrenia quadrangle of Mars and is centered on 33.25° latitude, 238.6° longitude. The crater is approximately 4 kilometers in diameter.