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Mars Space News

Surprising Further Evidence for a Wet Mars 192

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the slippery-when-wet dept.
Riding with Robots writes "When the robotic geologist Spirit found the latest evidence for a wet Mars, 'You could hear people gasp in astonishment,' said Steve Squyres, the lead scientist for the Mars rovers. 'This is a remarkable discovery. And the fact that we found something this new and different after nearly 1,200 days on Mars makes it even more remarkable. It makes you wonder what else is still out there.' The latest discovery, announced today, adds compelling new evidence for ancient conditions that might have been favorable for life, according to the rover team."
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Surprising Further Evidence for a Wet Mars

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  • Looks like ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Monday May 21, 2007 @06:29PM (#19214393)
    ... that gimpy wheel was a blessing in disguise. I think those little robots have been remarkable ... especially lasting years past their estimated '90 day' lives. If only the produce in my fridge could last that long past its estimated use date.
    • by Opportunist (166417) on Monday May 21, 2007 @06:32PM (#19214421)
      It does, you just have to alter its mission to adapt to the changes.
      • Re:Looks like ... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Mistlefoot (636417) on Monday May 21, 2007 @08:57PM (#19215771)
        Which is exactly what happened on Mars....albeit accidentally....

        From the article....the dead 6th wheel's new mission is as a plow of sorts.....

        "One of Spirit's six wheels no longer rotates, so it leaves a deep track as it drags through soil. That churning has exposed several patches of bright soil, leading to some of Spirit's biggest discoveries at Gusev, including this recent discovery. "
    • by QuantumG (50515)
      Heh. If the engineers who made your fridge knew that if they told the higher-ups that it would last 3 years they would never get funding to build it, they probably would have said it would only last for 90 days too.

    • There's no need to wax eloquent about that gimpy sixth wheel. They're just using it for a crutch.
    • Re:Looks like ... (Score:5, Informative)

      by RealGrouchy (943109) on Monday May 21, 2007 @07:54PM (#19215233)

      ... that gimpy wheel was a blessing in disguise

      While this does appear to be an interplanetary bug-as-a-feature, the rovers' wheels were actually designed to be able to scrape off the top layer of soil and expose what's underneath.

      Obviously, not to the degree this disabled wheel has, but still, they very much had plans to scratch below the surface of Mars.

      - RG>
      • by *weasel (174362)
        Using buzzwords to hide the fact that they slipped 'lawn job' onto the feature list?

        classic.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Paradise Pete (33184)
      If only the produce in my fridge could last that long past its estimated use date.

      Have you tried keeping it on Mars?

    • Remarkable? More like "miraculous." Spirit and Opportunity have served far, far beyond the wildest dreams of the project. They would have been a huge success if they'd crapped out shortly after the 90 day mark. Instead, the amount of science they have allowed in their mission thus far has been truly staggering and has helped us understand the geology of Mars far, far beyond what we'd ever dreamed possible in the original timeframe of the project.

      Steve Squyres is my freaking hero.
  • Ok great... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lamegovie (1055366) on Monday May 21, 2007 @06:32PM (#19214415)
    Now how about looking in places that will show us the existence of LIFE on Mars....like say in the polar ice caps or subterranean caverns? I dont think even MORE evidence that there was water on Mars would be that shocking...
    • Re:Ok great... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Opportunist (166417) on Monday May 21, 2007 @06:36PM (#19214465)
      I think this means more.

      Ice on the poles, a given. Easy. There are even some moons who're thought to have it. This, though, means that there was water there, liquid water, in larger quantities, far from the poles. And this water could have been the engine for life. Long, long time ago, granted, but still.

      It's not that there was water, it's where they found it.
    • You give the engineers too much credit. Just look at things like the DARPA challenge [darpa.mil]

      We can't even get a car to DRIVE across habitable terrain... how in bloody hell do you think we can engineer a robot to crawl subterrainian caverns and search for life?
      • by xENoLocO (773565) *
        Not to mention...

        If they can get a signal from inside a subterranean cabin, I do believe cingular owes me money.
      • by buswolley (591500)
        WTF?! They already drove across a desert autonomously, and met the challenge. The new challenge is to drive in traffic, which is a more dynamic situation. There isn't traffic on Mars. I don't get your point.
  • I am not supprised at all be the rovers discovery of multiple sets of Banth tracks. I had expected this.

    I really was expecting Thoat prints, as they have been assumed to be much more common in both wild and domestic species.

    I hope the next rover mission lands near the lost sea of Korus, where the mysterious river Iss empties.

    Cheers

  • Gustav Crater--Now known as "Silicon Crater."
  • by Otter (3800) on Monday May 21, 2007 @06:37PM (#19214483) Journal
    The newly discovered patch of soil has been given the informal name "Gertrude Weise," after a player in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, according to Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, deputy principal investigator for the rovers.

    No offense to Gertrude Weise, but -- huh?

    • Appearantly the NASA is suffering from the MMORPG phenomenon when naming their findings: All the good names are taken already.
    • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Monday May 21, 2007 @07:02PM (#19214745) Journal
      ...So I figure I'll google "Gertrude Weise" and see if I can get some info to see if there's some reason that they picked the name or are they just coming up with names. I run into Spirit Mission Manager Reports: [nasa.gov]. It catches my eye for these two quotes, taken entirely out of context:
      • "[...] Spirit backed up over Gertrude Weise [...]"
      • "Spirit acquired full color 13-filter images of Gertrude Weise [...]"
      It's not clear whether Spirit took the pictures before or after backing over Gertrude Weise--if it was after, it may have been done for insurance purposes...

      By the way, in reading the article, I notice that Spirit is near something that NASA is calling "Home Plate." So I assume that's what the baseball references are. There's also a "Virginia Bell" [baseballhistorian.com] (not be confused, I assume, with this Virginia Bell [javasbachelorpad.com]), "Kathryn Beare" [baseball-reference.com], and "Janice O'Hara" [baseball-reference.com].
      • by QuickFox (311231)

        • "[...] Spirit backed up over Gertrude Weise [...]"
        • "Spirit acquired full color 13-filter images of Gertrude Weise [...]"
        Hey, Spirit is a slashdotter! Only a slashdotter will spend the time with his date making backups and taking 13-filter images!
      • What? Spirit is close to getting to home plate with Gertrude Weise?
    • by compro01 (777531)
      No offense to Gertrude Weise, but -- huh?

      they give a name of every single geological landmark they find. and given that the definition of "landmark" is very broad (pretty much anything bigger than a sizable rock), they're just burning through names.
  • by jmtpi (17834) on Monday May 21, 2007 @06:42PM (#19214533) Homepage
    ...that robot/space telescope exploration gets you a lot more bang for the buck than trying to put a man back on the moon. Hopefully the next President will kill off this return to the moon business and start putting money into stuff like this again.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by QuantumG (50515)
      A man on mars would do more science in 2 days than the rovers have done in 3 years.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bad D.N.A. (753582)
        A man on mars would do more science in 2 days than the rovers have done in 3 years.

        After we dusted the surface with the first few manned missions where insertion didn't quite work as planned (like many of the robotic missions have done), then perhaps. Just start with the cost of the rovers and start multiplying by tens, lots of tens. I doubt your "science" advancements as well. I think we would be looking at golf balls being hit off the Valles Marineris, numerous flag-postings, and speak-with-a-scient
        • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Monday May 21, 2007 @07:56PM (#19215255) Homepage Journal
          Yep. I definitely didn't mean to suggest that sending humans to mars to do "good science" was the point of sending humans to mars. Nor should it be. I'd be terribly happy if no-one ever mentioned science the same sentence as the manned space program ever again.

          Hopefully the costs of manned space flight are coming down. alt.space is that crusade. Then all these heady justifications for why we need to spend so much tax payer money will go away too. If we're lucky, NASA's role in manned space flight will be completely transformed and science will finally be recognised as the secondary motivation that it always been.

          The purpose of manned space flight is not science. It's not spin-offs. It's not pork projects. It's not "national pride". It's not communications. It's not even about the limits to growth on our tiny planet.

          All that stuff is just reasons we make up to keep the population paying for it. We need these justifications to explain why someone who barely has enough money to make rent should be paying for a space station.

          The purpose of manned space flight is human unity. It's the global selfless dedication to a goal greater than all of humanity. It's what we learn science and build surplus economies to achieve. It's the purpose of being alive now. We need to get off this rock right now. We need to be more than just one planet. We need this so that we can look up at night and know there are people up there. Not just a scientist or two.. but an entire civilization.

          • I frequently agree with your comments so I'm not trying to be derogatory but:

            Manned space flight == "It's the purpose of being alive now"

            is simply "pie in the sky"

            I am alive because my parents were successful in procreation. My purpose is of my own making.

            There is no higher power that can issue an edict declaring the purpose of my (or anyone else's) life.

            I apologize if I've taken your comments beyond what you meant.

            There is a fine line between the arguments for manned space flight and the
            • by QuantumG (50515)
              Yes, true. This is why it would be good if manned space flight was cheaper, and economically sustainable.. then only the people who believed in its importance would be needed to fund it.

          • by StikyPad (445176)

            The purpose of manned space flight is human unity. It's the global selfless dedication to a goal greater than all of humanity. It's what we learn science and build surplus economies to achieve. It's the purpose of being alive now. We need to get off this rock right now. We need this so that we can look up at night and know there are people up there. Not just a scientist or two.. but an entire civilization.

            --
            Is John Carmack on crack? [insomnia.org]

            Talk about an out of place sig... that was like a bad morning

          • We need to get off this rock right now. We need to be more than just one planet. We need this so that we can look up at night and know there are people up there. Not just a scientist or two.. but an entire civilization.

            I know that's a very popular view, but I personally disagree -- I don't agree it's necessary, and I don't think it's practical anyway. But this isn't the right story to have that, uh, debate... I wish someone would do something relevant to the question, publish it, and there'd a be a good ol' Slashdot flamefest on the subject and we could all get ourselves into nice entrenched positions... Well, time will tell which of us is right, anyway.

            • by Cadallin (863437)
              What exactly would you suggest is a better use of our time and effort then? Wanking around on the golf course? Playing the newest Final Fantasy? Raising some squalling brat who's going to grow up to find a world nowhere near as full of opportunity as the one your grandparents (or even you) had available? How about trying to do something that's going to have lasting meaning? And no, making a shit tonne of money is not an activity with lasting meaning. Space exploration is making sure that lasting mean
              • by Kelbear (870538)
                Values are like opinions which are like assholes. Everybody's got one. As per the quote you see floating around on /.

                Just to be devil's advocate:

                It's not necessarily meaningful to extend the duration of a pursuit that's not necessarily meaningful. It's like multiplying a non-negative unknown variable. Sure it might be positive and you end up with a larger number, but it could also be zero and you end up with zero anyway.

                -How important is 2008 in the grand scheme if you live till 2059?

                With a longer life, the
              • What exactly would you suggest is a better use of our time and effort then? Wanking around on the golf course? Playing the newest Final Fantasy? Raising some squalling brat who's going to grow up to find a world nowhere near as full of opportunity as the one your grandparents (or even you) had available?

                The issue is, you get to decide what's meaningful, important, and what's worth having your money spent on. For you, space travel ranks high. And that's fine, and that's your right to feel that way.

                But for o

              • No, robotic exploration absolutely rocks. I just think the idea of real human colonisation off earth is delusional. I'd love to get into the whole back and forth and name-calling I sense you're longing for :) but what I'm really complaining about is that this isn't the story to do it in! What we need is something like a story about the back-to-the-moon-then-to-mars plan. See you there when it next turns up. Actually I heard some interesting stuff about prototype semi-autonomous robots at JPL planned for use
          • by Ihlosi (895663)
            The purpose of manned space flight is human unity. It's the global selfless dedication to a goal greater than all of humanity.

            I'd say taking government money and spending it on something that's not weapons is a noble enough purpose. The more, the better.

          • by renoX (11677)
            Building a civilisation up there, will take a very long time, so why do 'we need to get off this rock right now'?

            We can also wait until the technology improves enough..
            Maybe pouring 'space money' into say Drexler's type nanotechnology would result in being able to go truly to space *faster* than spending money on sending dinky little spaceship to the moon or mars with men inside..
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by gregleimbeck (975759)

          After we dusted the surface with the first few manned missions where insertion didn't quite work as planned (like many of the robotic missions have done), then perhaps.
          Then most of us decided that dating was a waste of time, and we should just go back to reading Slashdot.
        • You don't send men until you know for sure that there is something there, and know for sure exactly where it is. Then and only then can you justify the (powers of ten) cost.

          That is, if it doesn't involve the chance to blow people up on purpose.

          NASA -- Budget: $16.8 Billion (per year)
          Iraq War cost: $425+ Billion

          Amazing what we can find the money for when we try.
      • A man on mars would do more science in 2 days than the rovers have done in 3 years.

        But putting a man on Mars requires a huge infrastructure to provide food, water, habitable temperatures, earthlike atmospheric pressures, shielding from radiation, so on and soforth. Plus, it all has to have double or triple redundancy, or the risk will become too high to be acceptable to the public, which increases the complexity, mass, and expense of that stuff accordingly. And then it all has to be hauled to Mars, and bac

    • by eln (21727)
      Sure, but a man on Mars could do a whole lot more research a whole lot faster than this rover can.
       
    • according to one of the Mars rovers chief investigators. He estimates he could have found most of the significant discoveries of the rovers in just a few days if he were walking aroudn those areas of Mars.
      Still he is grateful for the robots. Much better than nothing.
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Monday May 21, 2007 @06:53PM (#19214653) Homepage Journal
    A Martian walked into a bar, and ordered a glass of water.

    Bartender said, "We're a bar, we just serve alcoholic drinks."

    Martian said "Well, since I'm not an alchohol-based life form, could I just have a glass of water instead?"

    And that, friends, is why Mars is Dry.
  • It makes you wonder what else is still out there.

    Well, I mean, you know ... it is a whole planet, after all.
    • "Spirit worked within about 50 yards or meters of the Gertrude Weise area for more than 18 months before the discovery was made."

      Apparently we're still working out which measurement system we're using.

      -Rick
  • This isn't proof that there could be life on Mars. Can't you see that something this obvious must have been planted by the martians?

    Oh, nevermind...

  • by GroeFaZ (850443) on Monday May 21, 2007 @06:59PM (#19214721)
    According to the Great Filter theory [gmu.edu], our chances of colonising other worlds before we go extinct would be diminished with every world we discover that contains life forms; and the higher evolved those life forms, the worse for us.

    The theory in a nutshell: There are a handful of steps life must go through, to the best of our knowledge, before a rotating disk of star dust can bear intelligent life that colonizes space and thus ensures its survival. The reason why we don't see life everywhere around us is that one of these steps is so improbable or difficult that only very few, if any, aspiring colonizers of space make it past that crucial step and go extinct. The question is, are we, homo sapiens, already beyond this step? If we never find alien life, chances are we have passed this point. For every life form we do discover, the probability that we yet have to reach this point increases.
    • Why can't them be a lot of slightly rare steps? I think it is not that hard, since we can't even estimate the probabilities of most of them.

      If so, we may have few hard steps at future. Or may have already passed through all of them.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by hoggoth (414195)
        > may have already passed through all of them.

        Well, since we don't have any self-sustaining colonies off of the Earth, I'd say there is at least ONE difficult step we haven't passed yet.

    • You really hope we're alone, just to "bolster our odds"? So it's eventual extinction and a chance to find life outside of our terrestrial family, or eternal life in a barren universe? I'll take mortality/company over immortality/solitude any day.
      • by Jerf (17166) on Monday May 21, 2007 @10:02PM (#19216215) Journal
        Bah, stop parroting nonsense and think for a bit. If humanity does survive another thousand years and spread across the stars with full mastery of genetics, biology, and technology, in nothing flat cultures will be so mutually alien in every way that it'll make Star Trek look like parochial, small-minded garbage, what with 100 little humanity clones running around.

        If we do survive and thrive, diversity will be the least of our problems.

        The old "loneliness of the stars" bit is as out of date as, well, Star Trek, as out of date as the idea that "crossing the stars" will be done in tin cans carefully coddling our meat sacks. That may have made sense to 1950s science, but it's obvious nonsense to anyone who uses 21st century science. It's going to be way stranger than Star Trek. You will pine for the days when it was as simple as Star Trek.
        • by ookabooka (731013)
          If humanity does survive another thousand years . . .It's going to be way stranger than Star Trek. You will pine for the days when it was as simple as Star Trek.

          Good point. I don't know about the grandparent, but I look forward to seeing you in a few thousand years to discuss this again. Fortunately I plan on living forever; so far so good.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dragonslicer (991472)
      Maybe I'm not reading that the right way, but if I remember my college math classes correctly, the outcome of other random events does not affect the probability of any given random event. If you roll a six-sided die (kinda sad I have to specifically say six-sided), and you roll a six four times in a row, the probability of rolling a six again is still the same. No matter how many other species advance enough to reach interstellar travel, the probability that humans do so is still the same.

      Unless you're
      • by Chris Burke (6130)
        As long as the events are independent, you remember your probability class correctly.

        The only way other alien life on other planets reduces our chances of colonizing other worlds is if they are hostile towards us, or they have a habit of destroying worlds we could have potentially inhabited, or in some other way interfere with our progress so as to become non-independent. Though the theory makes a tiny bit of sense because we can probably presume that other space-faring races are much more likely to have t
      • by cnettel (836611)
        If, on the other hand, you go to Las Vegas and see a hundred people playing the machines there, with noone winning anything large, you now have a new posterior probability distribution compared to the case when you just see a single gambling machine for the first time in your life, gullibly thinking you might have a chance to make a fortune. In your example of the dice, we already know the probability. In my example, and the example of life in the universe, we don't, and that's the point.

        Likewise, if you ro

  • by JumperCable (673155) on Monday May 21, 2007 @08:05PM (#19215369)
    All we have to do is tell the TSA that there may have been liquids on mars. NOW it's a homeland security issue.
  • by dreamchaser (49529) on Monday May 21, 2007 @08:26PM (#19215577) Homepage Journal
    We still find new and interesting things here on Earth after a couple of million years of hominids running around. I fail to see how *anything* short of walking talking Martians would really be a shocker on Mars given how little we've covered of it.
    • by Keebler71 (520908)
      I fail to see how *anything* short of walking talking Martians would really be a shocker on Mars given how little we've covered of it.

      Standby to be shocked! [google.com]

  • by Pedrito (94783) on Monday May 21, 2007 @09:18PM (#19215911) Homepage
    how do they know that this didn't come from some comet that happened to have a lot of silica in it? I mean, maybe they know it didn't, but let's say you've got a comet (lots of ice, some of it presumably water ice, and dirt) and it hits Mars and a chunk lands a few hundred feet away and spills silica all over the ground.

    I mean, I'm not saying it's not Martian in origin, but it just doesn't seem like there's any question that it's Martian and I'm curious as to why. But of course, they ARE rocket scientists and geologists, so I suspect they've looked into this possibility.
  • Why so surprised (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TekPolitik (147802) on Monday May 21, 2007 @10:10PM (#19216289) Journal
    I don't get why people keep being surprised that there's water on other planets. I would be surprised if there wasn't. With hydrogen and oxygen being two of the three most common elements in the universe with only helium in the middle, you have a simple compound made up of the two most abundant reactive elements in the universe. Given that hydrogen is so abundant, oxygen stands a good chance of finding hydrogen to bond with, and if it finds hydrogen it doesn't take much to get them to bond. Earth really isn't as special as people seem to want to make it out to be.
  • Ha ha, Mars wets its crust!
  • by Ranger (1783) on Monday May 21, 2007 @10:34PM (#19216471) Homepage
    There's still this pesky little thing called olivine [hawaii.edu], a volcanic rock. It's an interesting mineral in that it decomposes rapidly in water, and Mars is covered with thousands and thousands of square miles of it. There is water on Mars, perhaps, not as much as news stories in the press would imply, but the olivine puts an upper limit [marsdaily.com] on the amount of water Mars has had in it's past. I want to know how the scientists can square the evidence of water and the olivine [astrobio.net]. There have been different epochs in Mars' past. I suppose it's possible that after Mars' wet period ended where most water either froze or evaporated and disassociated with the hydrogen escaping into space then there was a period of volcanism that covered large areas of Mars with olivine. Sadly, I'm not familiar with the sequence of what was formed when. It is hard to date the surface of Mars except in general terms.

    There may have been life on Mars. There may be significant amounts of water in the form of ice on Mars. It's exciting and it will take a long time to sort the geologic or areology of Mars [wikipedia.org]. We should be going to explore Mars because it is an interesting world, not because it might have water or harbored life. Those discoveries are the icing on the cake. Because if those are the reasons we go an don't find anything, that will tell us something, but we will be disappointed and may not be able to get public support nor the tax dollars for future missions. We should look for evidence of life and water, but that shouldn't be our sole focus nor should we expect to find either.
  • "We know there are canals on Mars; and if there are canals, there's water."

    Now just wait for the next phases of his prediction: "If there's water, there's oxygen; and there's oxygen, we can breathe."

    Mars, here we come!

  • by OriginalArlen (726444) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @03:20AM (#19217999)
    The MER rovers are astonishing and the successes of their missions doubly so. I've been following the rovers since they landed in Jan 04 (*three years ago*!) with an expected lifetime of 90 sols each. Spirit's getting very, very dusty now, so the solar panels aren't generating much power - and Spirit has a bust wheel it has to drag behind it, which means it'll never climb Husband Hill as originally planned - but Oppy just had the dust cleaned off by a gust of wind, is generating over 800W/hr and despite a couple of arthritic joints and a broken steering actuator, is currently preparing to enter the enormous Victoria crater. Really, really fantastic stuff. I'm old enough to remember the Voyager flybys of Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus; these missions seem to throw us something amazing every few months on average, and exciting and interesting on a daily basis. And the icing on the cake is that all the raw imagery goes up on the web as soon as it's downlinked from the vehicles and the orbiting relays.

    I do wish NASA were investing more in the DSN though...

    • by cnettel (836611)
      W/hr? Ouch, mismatching units on Mars, this can't possibly be good... I'm just waiting for "CMOS battery accidentally drained, no boot on Opportunity".
  • Who said Latin was a dead language? This quote from the FA suggests that either Latin is still in use at NASA, or someone is a pompous twit.
  • by unity100 (970058) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @07:27AM (#19219091) Homepage Journal
    will the madness never end ?
  • Upon locating a small quantity of water on the Martian surface, the rover was greeted by a strange young man who drank from the rover's collection vessel and said "may you always drink deep", and then made some kind of noise like a cat fighting a bullfrog.
  • Best professor and best class I took while at Cornell. Hands down.
  • We figured out that Mars was wetter in the past than it is now, 3 years ago. Every discovery since then has just been gravy. Are they going to do anything about it?

    Steve is a master at playing up new discoveries, but we already got the message 3 years ago.

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