Caseythoughts Aside from political headlines (which frequently give me a sense of 'been there, done that, and I have the T-shirt to prove it...) my attention is often grabbed by science headlines, and this past week two stories collided to give me a couple of thoughts on a fascinating man of science that I had the privilege to interview twice prior to his passing.

The fist headline you might have seen/heard, concerning 'proving Einstein's theory of relativity'. Funny, I thought it had been proven over and over again in the past, but I guess I was dreaming. I didn't know we needed further proof, but, there it was, in reference to the movement of a star near a black hole, as far as I could determine. But the reason I was struck by this was another headline and story that received a little more coverage and raised some fascinating questions as well as a fond memory.

Italian scientists reported last week that they have found a lake deep beneath the surface of Mars. It's quite salty, and its presence was determined by deep surface scans, either sonar or other sound scanning. The saltiness keeps it from evaporating in the subterranean heat, and with water there has always been the distinct possibility of 'life' as we know it. Every time we find water, or ice, or its chemical cousins, we talk again about the possibility of life. Makes sense, at least to this pedestrian observer like me.

This led me to a memory of a man who died a few years ago and, in all respects, was a scientist frequently ahead of his time in his thoughtful speculations. Tom Gold was a professor at Cornell for years, and some of his most fascinating early work was done in conjunction with the Army Signal Corps and how the human inner ear worked, translating what the human ear 'hears' and interprets from sound waves traveling through the inner ear to the brain. Tommy was also a confidante and colleague of Carl Sagan, and it was he who originally told Sagan (according to Gold), from Gold's interest and training in astronomy, that there had to be a better explanation for the origin of hydro-carbons (and oil) than the accepted reasoning, that pre-historic forests were supposedly the source. Tommy was convinced by his data examination that hydro-carbons had been noted on other celestial bodies by their chemical signatures, and as far as we knew there had been no primeval forests on other planets or asteroids. So, where was our oil coming from?? What was its source if forests were not necessarily the beginning of our hydro-carbons?

Gold's most fascinating book, which stoked my curiosity and prompted my two interviews with him in the late nineties, was 'The Deep, Hot Biosphere', and in it he spoke of a trip he took above the Arctic Circle to Norwegian villages and the surrounding tundra where he believed that he could find evidence of petro-chemicals (oil and gas) seeping up through granite which had been fractured by a pre-historic meteor. Common 'sense' said that there would be no oil below granite, since that was the mantle, and oil was developed by rotting forests AFTER the mantle was formed.

What Gold reported was astounding. Oily substances actually sticking to his shoes and which villages had been utilizing for heat and cooking for a long time. Oil was seeping out of the ground in an area where it shouldn't be (the Arctic oil finds have been in the ocean, with deep drilling, according to standard practices, not leaking from underneath the granite mantle which is basically 'solid', with supposedly nothing but rock underneath all the way to the molten core). Tom speculated that we had only just begun to scratch the earth's surface, and that it was possible that oil and unlimited natural gas supplies might actually be found thirty, forty and even a hundred miles or more below the surface and that it could just be the leakage that we were finding on the 'surface', with our current drilling technology. Professor Gold was used to being laughed at (especially when he had speculated years earlier about the existence of quasars, which were proven years after his initial writings on the topic). And, this time it appears no different, even when he pointed out that previously abandoned oil fields appeared to be slowly regenerating oil again after years of neglect and shuttered oil derricks.

Whether or not this was (or is) possible, it may take a long time to prove, beyond our lifetimes, but fracking has certainly gone deeper and been controversially successful in extracting gas and oil. Tom Gold was actually trying to make a more interesting and intriguing point that relates to the Martian Lake and 'proving' a wild hypothesis.

In The Deep Hot Biosphere, he also talks about 'tubes' of calcified material that have been found miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, in the deepest trenches, that are actually volcanic 'chimneys' which spout almost-boiling water/liquid into the micro-atmosphere, that inky and frigid darkness of the bottom of the ocean. The fluid/water is super-hot, from even deeper beneath the earth's mantle, possibly up from close to the liquid metal core (the source of volcanic eruptions). The amazing thing is that within millimeters of these 'chimneys' are microscopic creatures, multi-celled and moving on their own, simple shrimp-like bacteria, that swim extremely close to these tubes and need the 'perfect' temperature to survive. Their range is incredibly limited due to the extreme of temperatures (from almost boiling to near freezing), and living within this tiny range is, if you think about it, much like we humans who live within a tiny range of temperatures both within us and without.

Too cold outside and we can die, too hot within us and we will also expire. This was the source of Tommy Gold's thinking that we humans, in our search for 'life' on other bodies in space, were what he called 'surface chauvinists'. In other words, we fail to see, in our own lilliputian thinking, how much life is going on just out of our sight, just beyond our very limited perception. And in the inky, frozen, inhospitable expanses of space (or our own planet, under the surface of earth or sea), the life we seek and speculate on may be well below the surface of the planetary bodies we are looking at so superficially, whether it be fly-bys of asteroids, the surface explorations of Mars, or the radar mapping of Venus, not even to mention the 'exploration' of Jupiter and its moons which, also, pointed out the potential of under-surface bodies of liquid.

He said that we humans are so unique, so one in a billion billion billion, because we have an atmosphere that has allowed us to thrive (for so short an archaeological time frame, of course) for a few ten thousands of years, and our biological ancestors had to deal with a never ending stream of conditions which constantly threatened to move us into the extinction which so many four legged creatures suffered. But, suppose we really did spring from single cell life that had to start below the surface of that incredible compound we call 'water'. We can take all the photos and radar/sonar readings on distant celestial bodies, scrape all the dirt and rocks from the moon and Mars, but the 'life' that we search for (in our own human search for 'meaning') may be found, in Tom Gold's incredible and stunning logic, deep below the surface. He told me in the interviews years ago that we could look at mankind's exploration of earth as a metaphor using a steel ball (a large ball bearing, perhaps, for illustration) and breathing on it: the water vapor coating that ball equals the level of exploration, the depth of the 'digging' we have done on our own planet's surface. Hardly measurable, indeed.

The Italian scientists' discovery of a subterranean 'lake' on Mars raises some fascinating thoughts, doesn't it, if we take Tom Gold's speculations into account. We've already found a similar 'lake' under the Antarctic icecap, and are reasonably concerned about bringing up core samples from it, much like our fears of contaminating other bodies (moon, Mars, asteroids, and beyond!!!) with Earth's germs. I seem to remember that we isolated our human moon walkers for a couple of days, didn't we? And we have employed scientists to try to insure that our planetary probes aren't carrying any of our nasty earth diseases 'out there'. And 'life' may be thriving just below, or very deep, while we continue to think 'surface chauvinistically').

But, if this recent discovery proves true (and it appears it will be at least a few years before we land on Mars, much less try to spelunk our way down to a Martian subterranean lake) then Tom Gold's idea of our tendency to be 'surface chauvinistic', his thinking in what we would call 'out of the box', even to the laughs of some of his scientific colleagues, his inspiration of Carl Sagan on extraterrestrial life, and a 'Deep Hot Biosphere' will all come to a beautiful exclamation point on the biography of a dreamer, a scientist of many talents and interests, a genius who has yet to be 'discovered', and appreciated, by the scientific world. Kudos, Tom Gold.

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