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Mounting Evidence for Water on Mars

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  • The spherules (Score:4, Interesting)

    by corebreech (469871) on Monday March 01, 2004 @05:55AM (#8427778) Journal
    I don't see what's mysterious about these at all. You have to remember that Mars has much less gravity than Earth, ergo, the amount of force required to displace a pebble is so much less. So while the atmosphere is thinner there than it is over here, it is still sufficiently dense to allow for substantial winds to develop; winds that displace these pebbles and cause them to move over the ground, and over time--millions and millions of years--this repeated displacement causes the tiny stones to become spheroid in shape. The end.

    • Re:The spherules (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Kircle (564389) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:09AM (#8427823)
      And NASA is really concerned about martian dust devils and it's impact on future human missions to Mars. They're suppose to be 100 times larger than the dust devils you find on Earth. I believe they have scientists out in Arizon studying the dust devils there and working around that.
      • Re:The spherules (Score:5, Informative)

        by ahecht (567934) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:57AM (#8427936) Homepage
        Well, not quite, but it's nice to see that someone knows about what we were doing.

        There have been at least two expeditions to the Arizona desert by NASA people to study dust devils, both run out of the University of Arizona. I had the opportunity to spend a month in the Arizona desert gathering data on the second trip.

        I wouldn't say that NASA is particularly concerned about dust devils -- due to the lower gravity, dust devils on mars would be much weaker than those on earth, even if they are larger. Even on earth, dust devils post little threat. Some of the ones we studied were over 2 miles tall, and you could walk right through them with absolutely no danger. While the original trip was sponsored by the HEDS (Human Exploration and Developement of Space) funded Matador experiment to see if the dust devils posed any danger to human exploration, the primary concerns were over static electricity and dust getting into space suits.

        What NASA is really interested in is how dust affect the geology of the planet. In the absense of water or strong winds, dust devils may in fact be the primary erosive force on Mars. During the first half of the 20th century, astronomers noticed that Mars changed color depending on the season, and this led them to beleive that there was rich vegetation on Mars. When the first orbiters and lander arrived, we learned that this wasn't quite true, but we still had no other solution. Now, scientists believe that is was dust devils, which are a seasonal occurance, that were actually reconfiguring the landscape of the planet. We have actually seen pictures of light colored planes that are crisscrossed by dark dust devil trails.

        The problem is that very little is known about dust devils on Earth. I only know of one scientific paper published on the subject. While some of the work we did was trying to find out the proerties of dust devils, especially the electrostatic properties, to help create an accurate model for their formation on Mars, this was not really why we were there. The primary goal of the NASA researchers was to study the dust devils on earth in order to learn how to study them on Mars. We were mainly out there to test a set of instruments planned for Matador (including some far out stuff, like using a special UV camera to detect sparks caused by static electricity).

        If anyone is interested, there is an article on the first trip at:
        http://www.spacedaily.com/news/mars-atmosphere-01a .html [spacedaily.com]
        and the second trip at:
        http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2002/0 5/29_dust.html [berkeley.edu]

        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2004 @10:27AM (#8429009)
          Ummm, I should think that quite a lot is known about dust devils.

          Every cumulus cloud that you see is a dust devil (though usually without the dust). The rising air of the dust devil is itself responsible for the cloud. Oft times it happens that the rising air either runs into an inversion or is sufficiently dry that it doesn't reach the dew point to condense a cloud. In deserts and dryer climes those rising air columns often find plenty of dust to pick up, making them visible.

          Further, these things are useful. Skilled pilots can use them to fly hundreds of miles in a day (1000km is not unheard of; I've personally flown > 300 km several times). As the poster mentions, they are often visible and rise up to two miles. (Actually more; in New South Wales (Australia) or Arizona (US) on a good summer day, they go regularly to 3-4,000m and more than 5,000m is not unheard of.) In mountainous areas where pilots are likely to carry supplemental oxygen, dust devils are scarcer, and orographic winds are more practical for achieving very high altitude (10,000m+) and long distance (500km+) flights. The orographic winds ("ridge lift", "wave") also tend to break up dust devils, strongly limiting their altitudes in mountainous regions.

          Without thunderstorms (on earth) dust devils sometimes reach upward speeds of 30 knots (15m/s) or more. With thunderstorms (condensing and freezing water release heat), much more powerful winds are created (> 70 knots).

          Further, in many areas of the world, you can get soaring forecasts. These provide some indication of the likelyhood of "thermals" (dust devils, w/ or w/o dust), what time of the morning they are likely to start (they are driven by sunlight), how strong they are likely to be, how high they are likely to be, and how many can be found per unit area. (Or you can use a T-phi chart or a Stuve chart (aka "skew chart") and a few measurements to figure these things yourself.)

    • Re:The spherules (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:24AM (#8427860)
      From the little I remember from geology, wind blown (aeolian) sand grains are more likely to be angular, while grains move by water are rounded. This is one indicator used to distinguish the provenance of a sedimentary rock at outcrop.
      • Re:The spherules (Score:5, Informative)

        by corebreech (469871) on Monday March 01, 2004 @07:07AM (#8427954) Journal
        Aye, but the scale is different. These spherules are said to be approximately the size of BB's. This causes them to interact with the surrounding terrain in a much different fashion; something as small as a grain has a greater likelihood to get caught by a rock or some other feature of the landscape than something as big as a BB.
      • From the little I remember from geology, wind blown (aeolian) sand grains are more likely to be angular, while grains move by water are rounded. This is one indicator used to distinguish the provenance of a sedimentary rock at outcrop.

        That is true if the globules spherical shape is the result of mechanical weathering. The spheres may also be concretions, formed in place through precipitation in an aqueous environment, or the may be melt glass from a volcanic eruption or meteor impact. The microlayered st

    • Re:The spherules (Score:5, Informative)

      by mikerich (120257) on Monday March 01, 2004 @07:07AM (#8427953)
      this repeated displacement causes the tiny stones to become spheroid in shape. The end.

      Except the spherules don't look like the sand grains you find in Earth deserts. Those would be rounded (because as you say there is lots of abrasion), but rarely spherical, and they tend to show signs of impact and scratching from their fellow grains. So far the spherules appear to lack these features.

      Best wishes,
      Mike.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2004 @05:56AM (#8427779)
    "Evidence Mounts, But Scientists Remain Tight-Lipped"


    Come on, somebody get that copywriter laid before he sublimates again.

  • Great... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Wiser87 (742455) on Monday March 01, 2004 @05:57AM (#8427785) Homepage
    Close-up photos of soil and rock have also shown thread-like features and even an oddly shaped object that looks like Rotini pasta.

    Now I'm thirsty and hungry!
    • Re:Great... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CdBee (742846) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:03AM (#8427805)
      "and even an oddly shaped object that looks like Rotini pasta."

      Could it be a fossil?
      • Re:Great... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by CdBee (742846) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:31AM (#8427877)
        Troll???

        I'm asking a perfectly legitimate question. An odd-shaped object embedded in a rock on mars may be a chemical deposit, or it may be an organic product - or it may just be an anomalous rock.

        I fail to see what is trollish about my question.
      • Re:Great... (Score:3, Interesting)

        "Fossil" is exactly what I was thinking when I saw it. It is, after all on the bottom of an ancient lake, which is exactly where fossils form on Earth.

        Here is something else to consider: Mars may be recovering from a mass extinction event. Had we sent a probe to Earth just after the Permian extinction wiped out 90% of all life, the place would be a devastated mess, with what little life remaining hiding out and clinging by a thread. Life takes decades to recover in the vicinity of a major volcanic eruption
        • Re:Great... (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Theaetetus (590071)
          If there is life on Mars, I believe it should be left alone. No more probes, unless it can be proven that they are made of harmless materials (as the current ones are not) and will not damage anything. Certainly not any human visits. Our species has a terrible record for destroying life. It is one thing to go back in time and destroy our own ancestors, ensuring we do not evolve. We have no right to be going to another planet and messing up their evolution.

          Why not?

          Serious question here - I've heard this f

    • Re:Great... (Score:5, Funny)

      by Bigman (12384) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:17AM (#8427845) Homepage Journal
      Mmm and everyone knows that to cook pasta you need brine.

      So the moon is made of cheese, and mars is made of pasta. I suppose that's why the earth is populated by carbonara based life forms..

      *bom-chi*

  • by CrystalChronicles (706620) on Monday March 01, 2004 @05:59AM (#8427794)
    I've seen the canals with my trusty telescope!
  • It's easy (Score:3, Funny)

    by farnerup (608326) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:00AM (#8427799)
    mars# mount /dev/evidence /mnt/water
  • by anish1411 (671295) <anish@kothari.ntlworld@com> on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:01AM (#8427801)

    OK we all know that water is needed to sustain life on earth, which is why its such a biggie when the possibility of water on extra-terrestial terrains arises.

    But what is it exactly about water that makes it so important? Here [uni.edu] is a page which shows some of the most important properties of water. It shows, for example, how capillary action works, a property that allows plants up to 20 feet (i think!) tall to absorb water without using any energy whatsoever!

    • by mike3411 (558976) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:28AM (#8427869) Homepage
      well.... clearly yes water has many very important properties, but that page doesnt do a very good job illustrating why it is significant for life. i think one of the reasons we get so excited about water is because it is so relevent to the working of our form of life. h2o is involved in an incredibly wide range of the organic reactions occurring in your body and in other terrestrial forms of life. it's entirely possible that other living organisms could operate with entirely different sets of biochemical reactions, and not need water at all. but if water is available, then something that we are more familiar with might be living there, and we know what to look for.

      btw, capillary action is not a unique property of water, it will occur with any liquid that an affinity for the substrate
      • by anish1411 (671295) <anish@kothari.ntlworld@com> on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:39AM (#8427888)

        The fact that for millions of years on Earth, nothing happened, and then all of a sudden BOOM life arose in the gap of about 10,000 (which is a small gap), might be suggestive that life really might not be able to happen many other way!

        If you look at life on Earth, it is based on long chains of carbon and some nitrogen, mixed with various other molecules. Not many other elements have the combining properties of carbon and nitrogen, so nothing too complex could be formed with anything else.

        If you take the example of a DNA molecule, this ia an extremely complex and precise little thing. It's double-helix structure is only possible because of the way it has been formed, and its replication has been masterfully engineered by millions of years of evolution.

        There are many, many other things about life on Earth that are so complex and specific, that I - and many biologists agree with this - think that life probably could not have happened any other way.

        Btw, the reason capillary action happens is because water molecules are polar, with the hydrogen side being slightly positive and the oxygen side being slightly negative. This is not true with most other liquids. And besides mercury, or ethanol wouldnt be very useful to plants, even if they could absorb it by capillary action.

        • by Pedrito (94783) on Monday March 01, 2004 @07:18AM (#8427978) Homepage
          The fact that for millions of years on Earth, nothing happened, and then all of a sudden BOOM life arose in the gap of about 10,000 (which is a small gap), might be suggestive that life really might not be able to happen many other way!

          Where did you get this from?

          Geologically speaking, life appeared on Earth almost the instant the Earth became hospitable enough for life, about 3.8 billion years ago (or when the Earth was 700-800 million years old. That was only single-celled life, but life nonetheless. The move to multi-celled life took far longer and didn't occur until about 700 million years ago. That's the giant-leap there. If single-celled life appears so quickly and it took so much longer for multi-celled life, then it gives the impression that single-celled life is very opportunistic while multi-celled life isn't necessarily the next step.
    • by Walkiry (698192) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:47AM (#8427908) Homepage
      Well, capillary action allows water to flow upwards in small, herbaceous plants. But if you do some numbers you'll find that the capillaries would have to be of an unfeasibly small diameter to allow that water to go up a 30 meter tree for example.

      The most important action that allows water to go up in those big trees is negative pressure at the leaves, created by the evaporation of water. Take a look here [rcn.com].
      • by jmichaelg (148257) on Monday March 01, 2004 @09:12AM (#8428465) Journal
        The most important action that allows water to go up in those big trees is negative pressure at the leaves, created by the evaporation of water.

        Hmmm, you should have paid attention in your freshman physics class. No such thing as "negative pressure." What you meant to say was "lower relative pressure" and even then you're still wrong. Even if the leaves managed to lower the air pressure above their surface to zero psi, which of course they can't, the highest you can lift water via air pressure differential is 10.3 meters. A water column 10.3 meters high weighs as much as a column of air reaching from sea level to the top of the atmosphere.

        If you want to move water to the top of a sequoia, you've got to use some mechanism other than air pressure differentials. In fact, had you carefully read the page you linked to, you would have noticed that transpiration peters out at around 32 feet.

    • by barawn (25691) on Monday March 01, 2004 @09:56AM (#8428751) Homepage
      But what is it exactly about water that makes it so important?

      Actually, that web site you linked to shows a lot of properties that are generic to all liquids - the unique one being that water expands when it contracts.

      However, the question should be "why only water?" and the basic answer to that is pretty simple.

      Life, simply put, could be described as nature selecting out certain configurations from a system that contains an almost infinite amount of states. Therefore, you need something that allows for many states and many configurations to form - that is, you want a dipole - subatomic "glue", basically - something that can take ions and join them together in weird ways to get bizarre states. Dipoles also act simultaneously as solvents - that is, they break down objects into dissolved ions.

      Well, if you want a dipole for life, then you're probably going to get life based on the simplest dipole available. So you start with hydrogen, the most common element. And the simplest dipole you can form with hydrogen is water.

      This, of course, doesn't preclude other elements from being the basic dipole for life if the region isn't compatible with water - though, unlike what the article says, Earth is not at the triple point of water - the blackbody temperature of Earth is ~255K, which is far underneath the freezing point of water (granted, triple points require knowledge of pressure, which eliminates a simple blackbody approach, but...). Earth's atmosphere, however, is at the triple point of water, but that's because it's been tuned to get to that point by the various thermal cycles and biological cycles which keep Earth's temperature near that point. What you really needed was liquid water, because as a solid or as a gas, the dipole properties are really being wasted. So, one can imagine a world where something just slightly more complicated than water (say... ammonia) is liquid, and maybe, just maybe, you'd get a complex chemistry out of that, too.
  • Life, Water & Power (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tronicum (617382) * on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:05AM (#8427808)
    We want to find artifical life forms, not only water.

    Another interesting point is probably a possible power source so if some of the nice red rocks contains a substance that is able to generate engergy, that would be better.

  • by Anonymous Shepard (595554) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:07AM (#8427817)
    "There are lots of geologists out there who are looking at these pictures and they are starting to drool," Haldeman said. "The American taxpayer that spent $800 million on this deserves a thorough analysis," Haldeman said.

    Which taxpayer payed this much?
  • It may have water (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sarojin (446404) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:09AM (#8427825)
    but it also has Hydrogen Peroxide in the atmosphere!

    link [sltrib.com]

    Antiseptic and life-killing, the chemical helps explain why the martian atmosphere and surface are void of life.
    • by Bigman (12384) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:20AM (#8427851) Homepage Journal
      What? So does that mean Martians are blonde?
    • Re:It may have water (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ColaMan (37550) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:52AM (#8427922) Homepage Journal
      That doesn't rule out subsurface life.
      Which is a likely place for life (if any) to be, considering that there's:
      - Possibly liquid water / brine there.
      - Possibly adequate sheilding from the crap atmosphere above ground / radiation from space.

  • by dwalsh (87765) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:11AM (#8427828)
    *Idiomatic Irish variation on an Anglo Saxon word.
  • by servoled (174239) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:11AM (#8427829)
    Damn those lazy NASA engineers. The February 29th cut off date [ljsilvers.com] has come and gone and they have yet make an official declaration of an ocean on Mars. What the hell have they been doing over there? Moving the rover 10 ft at a time, spending days just to get the damn thing off the landing platform, pathetic. There must be some shady deal going on between them and Long John Silver's [ljsilvers.com] to move really slowly to not have to tell the world that they found an ocean so they can share all of the free giant shrimp between themselves. This article just confirms it. Obviously they have enough evidence to proclaim that Mars is a big ocean, yet they don't because it would cut into their giant shrimp profits. Scandal I say!
  • by heironymouscoward (683461) <heironymouscoward&yahoo,com> on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:14AM (#8427837) Journal
    I mean, seriously. I'm not trolling, just scratching my head...

    We are sitting on a planet that has everything we could possibly want. Water, food, sun, beaches, fresh mangos, carnival once a year, beer, ADSL for peanuts.

    And now the hint of the memory of water on Mars is enough to give us sciencegasms of pleasure. "Oooh, water, bacterial lifeforms,"... I know, water = life, life = understanding, etc.

    But it seems so perverse. There is such a huge waste of life and resources going on all around us. Nothing we ever find on Mars will be remotely as interesting as - say - a bucket of seawater from any corner of the world's oceans. We'll spend fortunes trying to extract a few nuggets of knowledge from the furthest corners of our domain while ignoring the mountains of knowledge that remain to be unpuzzled all around us.

    Are we just a perverse species, or what?
    • by Darkfred (245270) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:29AM (#8427874) Homepage Journal
      I don't think its the thought of the life forms themselves on mars that will give people 'sciencegasms'. It's the implications of what it would mean if we found similar cellular life to our own somewhere else in the universe.

      It gives us hope that somewhere else in the universe there would be life as well. After all if two planets in our own system have life it must develop quite easily, Or at least show that interplanet panspermia is possible.

      And most important to our motivations, it addresses two very basic interests inherant to our physque. Loneliness and the divine.

    • by torpor (458)
      The "Life" question will be pretty significant if its answered in the affirmative.

      Remember, Earth is supposed to be a Garden of Eden. Like it or not, but a lot of human policy is driven by Christians who would rather not have to deal with the reality of the universe...

      Answering this question will transform culture in big, big ways.
      • by jafac (1449) on Monday March 01, 2004 @03:20PM (#8433058) Homepage
        Actually, it's my understanding that from a purely scriptural standpoint, the moon, mars, venus, ALL heavenly bodies were put there by God to help us mark the time and the seasons, and also portents and omens, etc.

        Which doesn't specifically say anything about what they are or are not, or whether there is or is not life on those bodies. It wasn't specifically mentioned in the Bible whether God created life there or not, or whether that life has souls, or whatever. Spiritually, it's pretty much a non-issue whether life exists there or not.

        Even if the life were intelligent life, it wouldn't make any difference. However, given the paranoid nature of the Christian Fundamentalist mind (everything is an evil leftist conspiracy by the devil to persecute and destroy them) - there is a contingent of Christians who are worried that SUPERIOR alien life will someday be discovered, and they will come and impose THEIR religion on us - and since there's no guidance on that at all in scripture, they'll be interpreted as demons bringing false religion from the devil.

        One point that is made in scripture, is that the Earth was specifically given to man, to do with as we please. The heavenly bodies were not. So if we were go colonise other planets, and exploit them, we don't specifically have God's permission. I'm sure that's probably not going to be an important point for Fundamentalists heavily invested in mining consortia.
    • by awol (98751)
      No, the Mars thing is the many worlds thing. We, for all are faults have some outward looking characteristics. Couple this with the pretty classic zero, one or many nature of most things and you realise that if we can find two planets around our sun that have (or had) life then we know that as far as life is concerned we are in the many domain. Whoa. That is huge. If we know that we are in the many domain, then the search for other intelligent life becomes much more a search for life supporting suns th
    • by Paulrothrock (685079) on Monday March 01, 2004 @08:59AM (#8428385) Homepage Journal
      But it seems so perverse. There is such a huge waste of life and resources going on all around us.

      Whenever there's anything about space exploration on /. someone posts a 'why are we doing this?' message.

      Yes, there are 2.3 billion people without fresh water, but it's not the fault of the space programs. NASA's budget for 2004 is about $16 billion. The Pentagon's budget is $450 billion!!!! This is more than all other military spending by all other nations combined We could cut it in half and still be spending three times as much as our next highest potential enemy (Russia, who spends $70 billion per year, and they're an ally.) The "Axis of Evil" spends only $7.5 billion, so we could easily defend our nation from "evildoers", feed all the hungry children, house the homeless, and provide quality education to anyone who wants it and still have money left over to send humans to Mars and the Moon, and push ourselves into space.

      Don't blame NASA for taking money from important programs. Blame the Military-Industrial-Congressional complex who would rather build things that blow up than feed starving children.
      • This is more than all other military spending by all other nations combined.

        Well, actually it means that you're spending more than the next 25 highest spending nations combined - not quite all nations. I've done some debating on the space programs recently and you have to have you statistics right unless you want to get shot down badly.

        All told, spending more on defense than your next 25 competitors combined does still seem a little silly - especially considering that the top few of those are britain, fr
    • by Idarubicin (579475) <allsquiet@hotmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Monday March 01, 2004 @10:21AM (#8428927) Journal
      But it seems so perverse. There is such a huge waste of life and resources going on all around us. Nothing we ever find on Mars will be remotely as interesting as - say - a bucket of seawater from any corner of the world's oceans.

      Maybe, maybe not. An actual living organism from Mars would be tremendously interesting, simply because it did evolve somewhere else. We'd get to see an evolutionary 'what-if' question answered.

      Looking at the differences--and similarities--between terrestrial and Martian organisms could be incredibly illuminating. Looking only at Earth life, and Earth fossils, and Earth biochemistry is like examining in detail one grandmaster chess match. Interesting, challenging, surprising, and complex...but it doesn't explore all the aspects of the game.

      Life on other worlds would be an opportunity to examine another game. The rules (physics) are the same for everyone, but the game is different each time you play.

      Mind you, I agree that we're not doing a great job of managing the diversity of life we have here on Earth. I am utterly gobsmacked at all the useful compounds extracted so far from extremophilic organisms. Then again, Martian life would be the utimate extremophiles--near vacuum, hard radiation...very impressive.

    • Mars is interesting because the Earth is headed for a resource crash in the not so distant future. One reason is we continue to fail at population control [prb.org]. There are a lot of reasons, religions that suppress birth control because they want to maximize their flock and we've interefered with some of the natural, brutal, mechanisms of population control with technology, being two.

      We are already at the point that we are waging wars for control of oil (i.e Iraq and Venezuela), control which will determine th

      • We're not anywhere near a resource crash. And saying we went to war in Iraq over oil just underlines your lack of thinking. It would have been a lot easier to get cheap oil from Iraq by just lifting the sanctions. No need to fight about it at all.
  • by CrosbieFitch (694308) * <crosbie@cyberspaceengineers.org> on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:16AM (#8427840) Homepage
    Has anyone else noticed the six segment radial spoke pattern on one of the spherules? Six-fold symmetry perhaps related to the same way that snowflakes form? Maybe the beads are snowflakes that gradually accrete into ice-droplets?

    Either that, or the spherules are organic...
    • by art6217 (757847) on Monday March 01, 2004 @08:45AM (#8428312)
      Several of the photographed spherules seem to have various features close to their tops, i.e. they seem to be pointed like here [nasa.gov]. There is also a photo of a cut of one of the spherules. If you brighten dark colors in the image [nasa.gov] something like a central stem, dendritic structures in, relatively to the image, upper part of the spherule, and a `glue' to the left of the spherule, can be seen.

      These can be illusions, of course.

  • Beware... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fpga_guy (753888) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:16AM (#8427841)
    of NASA's aqua-focussed spin on everything Mars related.

    The Mars program's stated goal is the detection of water on Mars - therefore every possible shred of evidence for that conclusion is being reported, with no discussion at all of any alternative interpretations.

    A couple of very interesting opinion [spacedaily.com] pieces [spacedaily.com] at spacedaily.com recently sum up some alternative theories.

    Don't get me wrong, I'd love it to be true. But there's a distinct water-mania in the current NASA press machine...

    • Re:Beware... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mike3411 (558976) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:55AM (#8427933) Homepage
      correct me if I'm wrong, but the space.com article has nothing to do with anyone at NASA. so to critisize NASA in this thread seems a little harsh. I think generally NASA does accentuate data that and theories that support the existence of water, but I wouldnt go so far as to suggest that they are ignoring alternative interpretations, or that they are doing something unethical or improper. although if you have specific examples of NASA distorting or improperly using information, that would be interesting.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:16AM (#8427842)
    Why should humans go to Mars?
    Because humans need new destinations and ever-expanding horizons.
    Because going to Mars will inspire the nation's youth.


    I hope they didnt stay up all night answering their frequently asked questions.
  • data and speculation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mike3411 (558976) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:20AM (#8427852) Homepage
    what a weird / poorly written article. maybe i'm misunderstanding some of their statements, but the author makes certain important conclusions that totally lack support. In particular, the possibiliy of liquid water (as evidenced by mud) is suggested. The article states "Levin points to Opportunity imagery that offers conclusive proof of standing liquid water and running water on a cold Mars." The argument is that freezing areas in the rover's tracks are filled with ice, which is supposedly identified through pictures. This may be valid, but to suggest that such an important conclusion can be made by theorizing on what could make a shiny surface in imagaes... seems excessive. This appears especially absurd to me because the rover has tools specifically designed to answer this question. I mean, why is this guy attempting to conjecture this based on images when we can use IR & GC to find out exactly what is there? I suppose the point in this article is that this data has been collected, and is to be announced soon, but the confidence with which the article makes these assertions and its lack of explication for the possible errors in these theories really frustrated me and seems totally inappropriate in a scientific publication, even one online :\

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2004 @07:49AM (#8428060)
      what a weird / poorly written article. maybe i'm misunderstanding some of their statements, but the author makes certain important conclusions that totally lack support. In particular, the possibiliy of liquid water (as evidenced by mud) is suggested. The article states "Levin points to Opportunity imagery that offers conclusive proof of standing liquid water and running water on a cold Mars."

      Yeah, Levin is a bit nutty here. "Crackpot" may or may not be too strong. He has a history with mentioned Viking experiment. Nearly everyone else has concluded that the results can be explained through normal (but unexpected at the time) chemical properties of the martian soil. Google around for more info, it's also come up on Usenet recently.

      All this talk of "mud" and "liquid water" leaves me scratching my head... I can only assume that these people are desperately looking for something to support their preconcieved ideas.

      Let's take the "mud" first.

      Everyone knows Mars is a very dusty place. It's exceedingly obvious from the pictures. The behavour of the rover tracks (and airbags) is about what you'd expect from a very fine grained material. Go play with some flour in your kitchen if it helps. Also, the "pro-mud" people (shall we call them Elbonians?) also seem to forget that the rovers carry a microscopic imager... The pictures from it seem to clearly indicate that we're looking at sand and dust, not mud.

      As for the "shiny" pictures implying brine/ice...

      This also seems uninformed to me. There are plenty of things that are shiny that are not ice. I think most of this is a result of not being able to correctly intrepret what the rover sees. The Pancam takes images though a variety of narrow-pass filters, and this can sometimes make things look funky. In fact, you can see that rocks sometimes look "shiny" in one wavelenth, but dull and normal in another.

      It's easy to find examples of rocks like this in NASA's "raw image archive" -- eg some of the Sol 14 Pancam pics at http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/all/spirit. html

  • by Zog The Undeniable (632031) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:25AM (#8427862)
    If Mars really is a "Waterworld", we'll invest vast amounts of money in it but no people will ever go to see it. Oh wait...
  • Moot Point (Score:4, Informative)

    by Yonkeltron (720465) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:32AM (#8427878) Homepage
    Yeah but it doesn't matter if there is water or not because if the supposed "Life Killing Chemical" is really present in the martian atmosphere like this article says it is...

    http://www.sltrib.com/2004/Mar/03012004/utah/143 82 7.asp
  • I wonder on Mars if it can rain upwards

    It only makes sense, considering the red sky and blue sunset [slashdot.org].

    On Mars, er-- In Soviet Russia, the umbrella wears YOU!
  • Where's the Pasta? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by torpor (458) <ibisum@gmail. c o m> on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:45AM (#8427902) Homepage Journal
    Anyone know where the images of this 'pasta-like' object are? I'd sure like to see that!!!
    • by Angry Toad (314562) on Monday March 01, 2004 @08:52AM (#8428347)

      They seem to be keeping the most interesting shots and other data to themselves - and no surprise, the only benefit the scientists get out of their participation in the project is publication rights. I'm quite sure that we'll see the most interesting stuff before too terribly long.

      Of course there's always the mysterious "horned" Opportunity object, which simply up and disappeared from one day to the next. I still suspect that it may have been a torn bit of material from the airbags that got blown away, but all the same it's an odd thing.

    • by mmcdouga (459816)
      Anyone know where the images of this 'pasta-like' object are?

      You can see it here [nasa.gov]. It's a little above and to the left of the center of the picture.

      Other pictures from that day (sol 30 for Opportunity) are here [nasa.gov]. They drilled the area in the following days and there's a picture of the 'pasta' post-drilling, but finding that image is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • by lemody (588908) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:59AM (#8427941)
    > I wonder on Mars if it can rain upwards," he said.

    I wonder if they are smoking some pot in Maryland... :)
  • Waterous questions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ektanoor (9949) on Monday March 01, 2004 @07:02AM (#8427946) Journal
    The presence of water in Mars has nothing new in it. In fact, for quite long we have had several evidences of its presence. Unfortunately all this messed with a long-standing presumption that Mars is Dry-Dried-Drying-Dead. This presumption was born from the unfortunate fight between Lowell and other scientists on the presence of civilizations in Mars. Each one of us may qualify Lowell's extrapolations from several points of view. But the fact is that many scientists of his time and later decided that the best argument against Lowell was to extrapolate the counterarguments. The fact was that the "scientific" discussion of Lowell's ideas as more as putting counterweights rather than well-weighed scientific arguments. It seems that people were more scared by Lowell's radicalism rather than studying Mars. If Lowell said there was a civilization, his opponents tried to overshow everything to demonstrate that civilizations could not exist in Mars, down to denying the chances for Life in Mars. If Lowell argumented that Mars had channels to carry precious water, almost everyone tried to demonstrate that there is not even a molecule of water in the atmosphere...

    The result was that at Viking's time, most circles were standing for the Dry-Dried-Drying-Dead argument, no matter the controversial data from spectroscopy, the first pictures from Mars and several theories about the formation of the Solar System. Most academical circles were not only willing to but forcing the view that Mars was just like the Moon but more colder.

    Unfortunately things did not stop only in this. There were people that for some reason falsified Viking's results or manipulated other results. For some reason, these people needed the Dry-Dried-Drying-Dead Mars argument as a weapon for their silly, stupid and overreligious theories. Frankly it is another show on how Mars, since Kepler, has been ground not only for a scientific debate but also for political-religious fistfights... Anyway, the extremism of ideas and the fundamentalism of some slowed down the exploration of Mars.

    If you hear a refutation of the new discoveries, be careful. Before coming into conclusions try to find if this is the product of a scientific discussion, how correctly people step up with their arguments, or if this is another mass-media show between Hoagland-alikes and Horowitz-clones.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2004 @07:24AM (#8427984)
    ...that on something as large as the PLANET Mars, there would be at least SOME water? I heard in school that water is made of common elements,
    'hydrogen' and 'oxygen'. Finding water on Mars is inevitable.

    Let me know when they find some sort of bacteria or micro-organism. Water ... pffffft.
  • What I don't get... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lord Kano (13027) on Monday March 01, 2004 @07:30AM (#8427999) Homepage Journal
    We all know that hydrogen is the most common element in the known universe, why is it such a big deal that some of that greatly abundant hydrogen exists in H2O on Mars?

    With the countless gallons on earth, it shouldn't be a big deal that just a fraction of that much water ended up on Mars.

    LK
  • by Glorat (414139) on Monday March 01, 2004 @07:36AM (#8428011)
    I remember watching a documentary on UK television describing one of the theories as to how water came to be on Earth. It was proposed that much of the ocean's water came from comets that pelted the Earth before there was an atmosphere and with the Earth being the right distance from the sun, we got oceans (instead of steam on venus and ice(?) on Mars). It has also been suggested that the building blocks of life (amino acids etc.) may also have come from extraterrestrial debris.

    Could it be that without an atmosphere on Mars, comets and the like could be falling on the planet and depositing their contents on the surface in the same way as has happened on earth? I mean, heck, we've even got our rover planted in the midst of a crater created by extra-martian debris and since there is little or no erosion on this planet we could be partly examining the contents of extra-planetary material. Personally, I think this would make the examination even more interesting than it already is!
  • by tverbeek (457094) on Monday March 01, 2004 @07:54AM (#8428085) Homepage
    Discovering evidence suggesting that there is life on Mars could be a serious stumbling block to further exploration, and definitely to exploitation.

    Remember when Chekov was scanning Ceti Alpha 5 for life before testing the Genesis device there, and his captain said that even a microbe meant the test would be a no-go? Remember what happened to the invading Martians at Grover's Mill NJ: they're highly vulnerable to Terran bacteria.

    But seriously, a dead, sterile Mars is one we could start sending people to, and eventually set up a permanent settlement (with waste products and all). But one with actual life would - for scientific, and arguably for moral reasons - have to be quarantined.

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Monday March 01, 2004 @09:03AM (#8428414) Journal
    "...and I say that we should wipe them out before they cause any more trouble. Their incessant broadcasting in practically every frequency gives me headaches every time we pass that system. I tell you, they are galactic trailer trash."

    "OK, tell you what. We'll let them develop without interference. We'll take that dead world nearest them, and sprinkle it around with some single-celled organisms. Once they start exploring, they'll find the organisms, and THEN - when confronted with an entirely defenseless foreign life form - we'll see their true moral character."

    "Deal."
  • by rm3friskerFTN (34339) on Monday March 01, 2004 @09:58AM (#8428764) Journal
    Sphere Analogs On Earth???
    Might the subsurface "sparkling" spheres [nasa.gov] be a form of Martian brine shrimp eggs
    ... These eggs are remarkably resistant to adverse environmental conditions... [encyclopedia.com]

    similar to the Great Salt Lake brine shrimp eggs???

    photo 1 [brineshrimpusa.com]

    photo 2 [utah.edu]

    More on the Great Salt Lake Brine Shrimp ecology can be found here:

    Link 1 [brineshrimpusa.com]

    Link 2 [brineshrimpusa.com]

    Soil Crust Analogs on Earth???
    Likewise a USA Today article Imprint shows Mars craft landed in 'weird stuff' [usatoday.com] describes "The soil was stripped up and folded in an interesting way," said Jim Bell, who designed the panoramic camera that Spirit used to photograph the "mud-like" patch [nasa.gov]. "It has quite alien textures."

    Might this soil crust on Mars be same/similar to the biological soil crust found at Arches National Park [nps.gov] (Moab, Utah)?

    Additional details regarding biological soil crusts maybe are to found here:

    intermediate details [soilcrust.org]

    advanced details [soilcrust.org]

  • by crivens (112213) on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:58AM (#8430229)
    So we have been pointing fingers at NASA, criticising them for their recent disasters, resulting from budget cuts. Now all of a sudden we're seeing lots of stories about "water on Mars". "Hey look, we think we found water on MARS! We need more money to go investigate further!". Is this a case of using the ends to justify the means?

    A troll? You bet!
    Just call me the drole troll!
  • by mattblanchard (551123) on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:36PM (#8430756)
    One scientist that was quoted in the article, Dr. Gilbert V. Levin, was the lead scientist on a life detection experiment that was aboard the 1976 Viking lander mission. He's been trying to tell NASA and the world for the past 3 decades that "the Viking LR experiment detected living microorganisms in the soil of Mars". Check out this paper [spherix.com]. Amazing stuff. Truly amazing.

    After reading this paper and several others [spherix.com] by Dr. Levin, I have to wonder why the general public has no idea about these findings. Don't they merit public discussion? Why don't *any* of NASA's planned Mars missions contain direct life-detection experiments? IANACT (Conspiracy Theorist), but something smells fishy to me.

  • by cunniff (264218) on Monday March 01, 2004 @01:23PM (#8431436) Homepage
    Most planetary scientests have accepted for decades that water is a major force in Martian geology. The polar ice caps have long been known to have a substantial water component. The Viking missions detected chemical salts typical of evaporation deposits. Nothing other than water has been proposed for the major outflow channels found all over the Martian surface. See planetary scientist William K. Hartmann's excellent recent book, "A Traveler's Guide to Mars" [amazon.com] for lots more information.

    Evidence of *recent* water activity is interesting and important, but the loss of this nuance is typical of "news" journalism, which must justify every story as Brand! New! Exciting! Information!
  • by forgetful (725420) on Monday March 01, 2004 @02:10PM (#8432199)
    And have the rovers confirmed the presence of peroxides? Remember the Viking biologic experiments came back positive. It seemed at the time, like some folks went into overdrive to explain the results on the basis of soil peroxides. That always seemed far-fetched, to me, on a planet covered with FERRIC oxide. The Martian soil crusts sure look like desert crusts on earth, and on earth the crusts are loaded with cyanobacteria. The predominance of CO2 would argue against that, but there is almost NO ATMOSPHERIC NITROGEN. Is there nitrogen (read: ammonia) in the Martian soil? Nitrogen is an essential component of amino acids and proteins.
  • by DynaSoar (714234) * on Monday March 01, 2004 @03:20PM (#8433057) Journal
    It is almost impossible that there is no water on Mars. The planet has had its fair share of impacts. Those include an equally fair share of water bearing material, such as cometary ice. The question should not be "whether" but "how much and for how long".

  • Some physics guess's (Score:3, Informative)

    by Wardish (699865) on Monday March 01, 2004 @03:27PM (#8433132) Journal
    I figured that I would make a few guess's, the amount of education applicable to them is for you to decide.

    Ok, Gravity 1/3 rd. (roughly, everything here is roughly and ballpark)
    Atmospheric pressure 1/10 th.

    So for a given volume the amount of wind speed to push is going to be:

    If I remember correctly it's double the wind speed and you quadruple the force. So it's 1/10 the pressure but it can only do 1/40 th the work for a given speed. So if you have a wind on earth that pushes against something with a force of 4 Kg at a speed of 10 Kph then on mars the same 10 Kph wind would only have a force of 62.5 grams, if you double the wind speed to 20 Kph you get 250 grams. Double it again to 40 kph and you get a force of 1.0 Kg and double a last time gets you to 4 kg with a wind speed of 80 Kph. So to get the same force you need 8 times the wind speed.

    Of course it's not quite that simple. The 1/3 rd gravity means the same force seems to do more. What it really means is that it takes less force to do anything where gravity is a component. Friction for instance or any operation involving an up or down component.

    I would guess that the best ways to simulate it here on earth would be to modify the other parameters to match our gravity. For instance, if your interested in how water might have worked on rock in that gravity then use something that is 3 times the density of water and see how it behaves on rock. Something as simple as a rock tumbling kit filled with an appropriate liquid mixture and compare the results with those produced by water.

    To reflect the difference in air you might try to use a fluid to make the rocks have a similar weight as they would on mars then modify the size to match the density of the liquid vs. the Martian atmosphere which has the added benefit of letting you lower the flow speeds to match as well.

    Basically it seems that things would happen slower for the most part whenever anything with a gravity component is involved. Flows would be slower, on the other hand inertia is the same so when 2 particles collide you get the same bang for the buck.

    I suspect that weathering based on moving water would be similar. I'm not sure if possible changes in elevation would make up for the lesser gravity, I suspect not though.

    Atmospheric weathering should be more noticeable. Because of the density you should be able to sort out those rocks that can and can't be moved as opposed to rocks that could have been moved by water but not by air. The differences in weathering on the various sides of these rocks should answer some questions.

    Ok enough of this, time to return to my thorazine and play with the pretty bits...

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