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Space Science

Mounting Evidence for Water on Mars 342

Posted by michael
from the BEM dept.
Kent Simon writes "Space.com has an interesting article discussing new evidence from the mars rovers that shows there may really be Water on Mars."
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Mounting Evidence for Water on Mars

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  • 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...
  • 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...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:18AM (#8427847)
    I mean, all the cash used to explore the "heights" would be better utilized if it were used to explore the oceans. Attributes of the funny and strange creatures down there could be used to cure some of the troubling diseases affecting the world. To me, this would be a very good way of spending that cash. I hear some spieces of star-fish have a protein that significantly reduces the pains associated with leukemia.
  • Re:Tell news (Score:0, Insightful)

    by anandcp (617121) <anandcpNO@SPAMtatanova.com> on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:19AM (#8427850)
    Read the blog. Good one. But then americans have always claimed they invented the rail engine, airplane and submarine! No surprise in that
  • Re:Tell news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:25AM (#8427863)
    I doubt you this kind of evidence from an orbiter:


    "Other images show the rover tracks clearly are being made in "mud", with water being pressed out of that material, Levin said. "That water promptly freezes and you can see reflecting ice. That's clearly ice. It could be nothing else," he said, "and the source is the water that came out of the mud."


    That's not evidence, that's a hypothesis that has yet to be tested.
  • Re:Tell news (Score:4, Insightful)

    by torpor (458) <ibisum@gmail. c o m> on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:47AM (#8427909) Homepage Journal
    Its not "not discovered here", its "news media organizations not heavily biased over there" ...

    Slight difference, I know, but get it right. The Media is quite often the enemy of Science, and The People.
  • Re:Tell news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mike3411 (558976) on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:48AM (#8427913) Homepage
    wow what a stupid post & argument. i dont mean to sound argumentative, but you provide almost no support for your conclusion that "ESA's mission is superior to NASA's mission". First let me say the ESA mission is important and useful. Remote mapping of the surface will help researcers understand martian geography, helping to locate points of interest, understanding weather paterns, and learning more about the geographic changes the planet may have undergone over the past few thousand years.

    But the US mission is also very valuable. You ask "But what have they produced so far? A few snapshots and panorama pictures (which are nice, but well...), and some stone probes." which is really just silly. The photos the landers have taken are more than just panoramas of the scenary. While these do tell us more about the martian surface, the really imporant pictures are of the rock formations, close-ups of the surface sand and rock, and micrographs of all the material there at the surface. Seeing exactly what martian rock, pebbles, and sand looks like is very important for understanding the martian atmosphere & weather patterns, as well as geologic makeup and history.
    to suggest that it's only taken a few is absurd... check out http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/all/spirit. html for spirit's photos, http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/all/opportu nity.html for opportunity's.

    the other tools on the rovers (see http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/spacecraft_ surface_instru.html for details) are also very important. these tools will allow accurate analysis of collected samples. while an orbiter can determine chemical content to a degree, the detail pales in comparison to what the rovers are finding.

    with all your unfounded critisism and palpable distaste for another country, I almost mistook you for an American! try not to be so prejudiced in the future, mmK?
  • by torpor (458) <ibisum@gmail. c o m> on Monday March 01, 2004 @06:55AM (#8427929) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • 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 @07:00AM (#8427942)
    Understanding exactly what is going on in a bucket of seawater would transform culture in a big, big way. Looking for life on Mars is a bizarre way of doing this.
  • 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.
  • Re:The spherules (Score:1, Insightful)

    by rotciv86 (737769) on Monday March 01, 2004 @07:10AM (#8427958)
    Those spheroids aren't on earth, you can't compare them to the ones found on earth, it's kind of like comparing apples to oranges. Mars has a different gravity, different air, different temperature. How can you compare them?
  • 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.
  • Re:The spherules (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bdeclerc (129522) on Monday March 01, 2004 @07:32AM (#8428003) Homepage
    Simple : the physics isn't different on Mars, so if the physical basis of the processes is understood (which it is in the case of grain & pebble formation), we can know what to expect (which in this case would be relatively similar things).

    Besides : have you looked at the pictures? These spherules are not round because of abrasion or erosion, they are clearly round because they formed that way (either as molten droplets solidifying, or through some sort of deposition process). Rounded pebbles are "rounded", not "perfectly spherical" like these spherules.

    Until we get info on their chemical composition, we don't know what caused them, but erosion into "spherules" is one of the least likely explanations.

    Most likely, in order of decreasing likelyhood:
    - Solidified droplets of molten rock (from impact or volcano)
    - Chemical concretions in standing water (above or below ground)
    - Chemical concretions of biological origin
    - Eggs of a Martian Rock-frog
    - wind/water erosion of angular stones
  • Re:Tell news (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2004 @07:36AM (#8428010)
    Is there anything in this world that people can work together without turning it into a pissing contest?

    The Mother of all pissing contest, the Cold War, has already ended.

    So take example and start aiming to the toilet. This place is already too smelly.

    -For Cleaner Environment
  • 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 troon (724114) on Monday March 01, 2004 @07:56AM (#8428096)
    Well, you succeeded in trolling and being flamebait.
    I don't believe there's anything in Scripture that precludes extra-terrestrial life. The Bible is truth, but not exhaustive truth. If you want to learn Perl, for example, the camel book will be significantly more use to you than the Bible.

    Seems to me like you have a real problem with the Church. Not surprising, given how much of it behaves, but that doesn't alter the *fact* of whether or not God exists.
  • by bani (467531) on Monday March 01, 2004 @07:56AM (#8428099)
    ...do you have specific examples?
  • Re:Tell news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jabberjaw (683624) on Monday March 01, 2004 @08:00AM (#8428110)
    I was going to mod yet feel that I must post. Why can we not just take our nationlism, stow it and accept the fact that both NASA's mission and the ESA's mission are providing valueable contributions to mankind. Spirit and Opportunity provide a prespective that Mars Express cannot. Mars Express provides a prespective that Spirit and Opportunity cannnot. Both missions are good science!
  • by Perdition (208487) on Monday March 01, 2004 @08:03AM (#8428128)
    Of course, if they find nothing, the scientific community will graciously bow to all things religious and happily confirm that there is no life beyond Earth. Yeah, fair play for all from the scientific community...

    More likely, they'll concoct some weird story about dust on some solar panels, admit a setback, find some last minute "evidence", shut off the rovers, ask for some money, and try it again.
  • Re:The spherules (Score:3, Insightful)

    by corebreech (469871) on Monday March 01, 2004 @08:18AM (#8428196) Journal
    First of all, they aren't perfect spheres.

    Secondly, it isn't random physical phenomena we're talking about here.

    Third, why do you assume the rock fragments were of variable size and shape? All that is required for my hypothesis to be correct is that the original material was light enough to be displaced by the wind. Those materials of a given size and composition were therefore subject to this effect, those differing in size and composition were not. As we can plainly see, there is an abundance of material on the surface of Mars that is neither similar in size or shape.

    The fact that they are the same size is easily explained by the terrain. The size of the stone or particle in question has a great deal to do with how it interacts with the surface as the wind propels it; similarly sized particles are going to behave similarly as the conditions of the surface change, i.e., a depression in the surface will "catch" particles of a certain size, but not particles that are larger, or smaller.

    Nobody is shouting anything, and I fail to see how mysticism plays any role here whatsoever (your previous inane reference to Martian rock-frog eggs notwithstanding.)

    The differences between the planets is anything but minor. The difference in gravity alone undoubtedly carries with it a tremendous potential to impact geological processes. As does the air pressure, temperature and chemical composition of the various materials being studied. Moreover, your depiction of the processes that take place here on Earth is similarly flawed... pebbles don't form in streams at the kind of altitudes that are remotely comparable to Mars. If you're going to throw stones at the conjectures others have on geological processes on other planets, it would behoove you to have a better grasp on those that take place on your own.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2004 @08:24AM (#8428230)
    Thats true, to think there are some people around who still think that the earth is flat, and I am not talking about uneducated peoples (amazon people etc), I am talking about educated people. You will have some believers and some people who ignore the facts even when you show them.
  • by Perdition (208487) on Monday March 01, 2004 @08:26AM (#8428236)
    If "hard" evidence was found that could appease the secular scientific community of the validity of the resurrection of Christ, would the secular scientific community concede we live in a universe that suffers miracles?
  • by amightywind (691887) on Monday March 01, 2004 @08:37AM (#8428283) Journal
    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 structure of the outcrop is also fascinating. I don't think it is known definitively yet whether it volcanic ash or a lake sediment. Observation of either one is a first for Mars exploration.

  • Re:Tell news (Score:3, Insightful)

    by amightywind (691887) on Monday March 01, 2004 @08:48AM (#8428324) Journal

    The ESA "discovery" announcement last month was accompanied by a cartoonish image of the Valles Marineris area. I have yet the see the source data for this grandiose conclusion. Visual evidence for an abundance of water on Mars dates from the Mariner 9 mission in the early seventies. No one has yet trumped the awesome observations of recently active gullies [msss.com] in Mars southern hemisphere.

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • Re:Water on mars (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2004 @11:05AM (#8429483)
    -1:ignorant, I'm afraid.

    We know that the polar caps are white - they may be water, or they may be frozen CO2.

    That is unless, of course, you know more than the rest of us, you sly devil.

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

    by Cally (10873) on Monday March 01, 2004 @12:21PM (#8430549) Homepage
    Someone in the article speculates that the spherules might result from water percolating upwards through the soil and freezing when it gets near the surface. To a layperson this is an appealing interpretation, with only one small drawback - the spherules are clearly eroding out of the rocks. If you've been following the daily raw images (click the non-obvious 'multimedia' link at the top of the marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov site, then 'all raw images' turns up in the LHS navbar. Took me ages to work that out) you'll see that Opportunity sawed a few in half when with the RAT when grinding holes in a rock. They're clearly in the rock, as the surface weathers away, eventually they fall out and roll across the surface to low points where they collect. Quite possibly we'd never have seen these if Opportunity hadn't been lucky enough to land in a crater.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2004 @03:02PM (#8432858)
    If I recall correctly there's a bit of debate about transpiration since it appears that plants really don't use anything else. Last I checked an active H2O pump had not been found in plants. Which as you pointed out seems to defy physics.

    But then again most of the reactions that keep us alive are extremely unfavorable. Of course all those are driven by the couple that are favorable.

    I guess life is about cheating physics. Playing with the rules to make something that is virtually impossible an everyday occurance.
  • 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".

  • Re:Great... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Theaetetus (590071) <theaetetus DOT slashdot AT gmail DOT com> on Monday March 01, 2004 @05:31PM (#8434345) Homepage Journal
    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 from others before, and choose now to respond to it. There is no Prime Directive outside of Star Trek yet, so there's nothing legal we're violating. Moral law, maybe? Whose? What moral code states that "thou shalt not interfere or impede the progress of alien civilizations"? Certainly thousands of years of human history show that we frequently do otherwise, particularly Europeans (Native Americans, Africans, Indians, etc.)

    Another way of looking at it - if we stay on just this one planet, there's a strong likelihood that at some point, maybe not too far away, we'll be wiped out by a comet collision. Don't we, as an intelligent species, have a "right" to attempt to survive by colonizing other planets? In fact, don't we have a "duty" to our children and grand-children to act to ensure the survival of the species? Mars obviously doesn't have technological-age life on it. It might have proto-life that could someday develop into intelligent life, but what obligation do we have to it? Vice versa, what obligation would it have to us, were our positions reversed and Martians were exploring Earth?

    Here's another view... Are you vegan? No? What "right" do you have to eat all those cows and chicken and fish, thus ensuring that they will not live longer to pass on their genes to future generations, generations which someday might evolve into more intelligent life? (If you are vegan, disregard this). I feel that the right that lets us eat other animals to ensure our survival - the "right" of survival of the fittest - is the same right that lets us also explore other planets and potential contaminate the proto-life there.
    If Mars was currently inhabitated by intelligent, communicating life, that might be different, but unlikely - in such a case, we'd just want to make sure that we wouldn't contaminate them with something deadly to them and vice versa (i.e. smallpox blankets). However, with no life communicating with us, or showing any evidence of intelligence, I think we have no obligation towards protecting their path of evolution. Also, simply by existing, we're altering their natural environment (lot of RF coming off the Earth). Should we stop all broadcasts, because we don't want to increase their chances of mutation beyond what they would normally get in the universe? It's an extreme position, but it's the natural extension of what you suggest.

    I feel we have a duty to expand and colonize, until we run into another intelligent species. At that time, we can negotiate. Until then, though, our first obligation is towards humans.

    -T

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