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Mars Space Science

Strange Globs Could Signal Water On Mars 186

Posted by timothy
from the growing-merging-dripping dept.
Joshua.Niland writes "Strange globs seen on the landing strut of the Phoenix Mars lander could be the first proof that modern Mars hosts liquid water. Images from the robotic craft show what appear to be liquid droplets growing, merging, and dripping on the lander's leg over the course of a Martian month. Just when is NASA going to fix that leaking roof on the backlot?"
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Strange Globs Could Signal Water On Mars

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  • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @03:31PM (#26951045)
    That condensed on the metal parts of the rover. Assuming of course that those globs are water and not Martian spit or something else.
    • Assuming of course that those globs are water and not Martian spit or something else.

      Maybe a Martian dog walked by, took a whiff of the lander, and promptly took a piss on it?

      Now that would be a headline for the press, "Traces of dogs found on Mars."

    • by Culture20 (968837)
      And what is condensed water vapor? I thought so.
    • by snowgirl (978879) *

      That condensed on the metal parts of the rover. Assuming of course that those globs are water and not Martian spit or something else.

      As frigid as Mars is, it would have sublimated onto the rover, not condensed.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by snowgirl (978879) *

        As frigid as Mars is, it would have sublimated onto the rover, not condensed.

        God, I'm an idiot... it would have accumulated by DEPOSITION, not sublimation.

        Still, the point is still there. It would have changed from vapor to solid without a liquid phase. The perchlorates that would keep it liquid wouldn't be in the vapor, and thus it would depose, not condense.

    • by Mista2 (1093071)

      Hey, Ferro, you been drooling in the landing bay again?

    • by Man On Pink Corner (1089867) on Monday February 23, 2009 @02:52AM (#26955201)

      That condensed on the metal parts of the rover

      Not to denigrate the achievements of the Phoenix lander, but this is exactly why the people who advocate robotic planetary missions over manned ones are wrong.

      We didn't detect this water using Phoenix's million-dollar spectrometer designed to detect hydroxy compounds, or whatever. We detected it by adding a $20 digital camera that happened to be capable of pointing at some metal struts.

      If you want to discover new stuff, you want to leave room for serendipity. Unfortunately, because Phoenix is a purpose-designed robotic platform, we can't ask any more questions about what the condensing substance is, or what else is in it. No matter how advanced they become, we can only tease ourselves with robots. To really check the place out, we have to go in person.

      • First, we have to determine 1) if it is worth spending so much money and, likely, lives to go visit. And for that you can send a robot and 2) where to go when you send a human, and for that you can send a robot.

        Yes, we will have send a person, but it makes sense to send a robot first, and send an orbiter to map the crap out of it. I'm as impatient as anyone, but a robot first makes more sense.

        Now that we have decided that it's pretty interesting and have some data about what is where, _now_ is the time

  • to Mars, sponsored by Perrier or Evian. Now that'll be an expensive drink when its shipped back!
    • by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @04:58PM (#26951681) Homepage Journal

      Because of discoveries on Mars a few years ago, I registered the domain name martiansprings.com.

      I get these late night brilliant ideas that go nowhere. I was picturing bottled water sold as a souvenir gimmick in science museum gift shops.

      Some say I'm bipolar.

      • by glittalogik (837604) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @05:35PM (#26951981)

        Some say I'm bipolar...

        ...and that there's a portrait of your left foot in the Louvre basement.

        The only thing we know is: you're called The Stig.

      • by Belial6 (794905) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @05:58PM (#26952197)
        You registered the wrong domain. You should have registered martianhomeopathy.com. I just checked and it is still available, as well as the .net, .org, and .mobi variants. You see, shipping millions of gallons of water down from Mars would be prohibitively expensive. On the other hand, if you market it as 'Homeopathy', you can actually advertise that you have diluted billions of gallons of earth water with just one itty bitty tiny drop of actual Martian water. This will be seen by many of the homeopathy crowd as giving it more powerful juju than if you had shipped 100% pure Martian water.

        While I'm not saying that getting that first drop of Martian water would be cheap or easy, but it certainly would be cheaper and easier than setting up a full scale harvesting and shipping system for pure water.
      • by clambake (37702)

        If other people say you are bipolar, you should get yourself checked out. Not knowing, or not being able to believe that you are bipolar is sort of a classic symptom of the disease... Trust me.

  • Duh... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by db32 (862117) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @03:38PM (#26951091) Journal
    I thought we already had the signals with the sublimation we caught on camera. Then some more potential evidence with the snow. I think we should be reaching the point where we can start talking about this stuff as possible evidence rather than saying "signal" like we are surprised.
    • by david.given (6740)

      I thought we already had the signals with the sublimation we caught on camera. Then some more potential evidence with the snow. I think we should be reaching the point where we can start talking about this stuff as possible evidence rather than saying "signal" like we are surprised.

      Well, there's a big difference between solid water and liquid water. Solid water exists at a vast range of temperatures and pressures, and sublimation can occur at a vast range of temperatures and pressures; liquid water, even liquid water loaded down with salts as in this hypothetical Martian mud, can only exist at a much, much smaller ranger of temperatures and pressures. So sighting stuff that looks like it's a liquid is significantly more interesting than seeing chunks of ice.

      For example: consider that

      • by db32 (862117)
        Oh I certainly understand that, and liquid water on Mars would indeed be an interesting discovery. But the title is all about water on Mars like that wasn't already a pretty strong possibility. Also, ultimately this is thought to be water vapor interacting yada yada yada. So water vapor is still impressive, but it isn't exactly lakes and rivers on Mars or even puddles really.

        I will also point out that the possible candidate for a habitat for Earth based life is probably on more minds than Martian life.
  • Does the vehicle itself contain any liquids which could behave in this fashion?

    • My car does the same thing, but with oil. I was thinking that maybe because this water is 'created' from nothing and my car's situation is close, maybe I'm driving a perpetual oil machine?

      This could be profitable...
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        My car does the same thing, but with oil. I was thinking that maybe because this water is 'created' from nothing and my car's situation is close, maybe I'm driving a perpetual oil machine?

        Your driveway would already have been carpet-bombed had that been the case.

  • by chopper749 (574759) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @03:48PM (#26951153) Journal
    We sent a robot to look for water on Mars. It lands in an icy puddle, and gets covered in mud and tiny droplets (that behave just like water). But we can't tell if it's water or not. Your tax dollars at work!
    • by Beelzebud (1361137) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @03:54PM (#26951195)
      Oh the precious tax dollars!
      You do realize that scientists have a higher burden of proof, right? They aren't going to say it's water until they analyze it and can confirm with certainty what it is.
      Damn right it's my tax dollars at work, and millions of us approve of it.
      • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @04:01PM (#26951235)

        Damn right it's my tax dollars at work, and millions of us approve of it.

        Well ... those of us who understand the logic behind science and the scientific method most certainly do. I'm just not sure how many of us fit that description, anymore.

      • by MMC Monster (602931) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @04:01PM (#26951237)

        The problem is, those of us that approve are rather silent.

        Just at work, a highly educated person was complaining how a "third world" country was "wasting" money on space exploration rather than feeding and sheltering the poor.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by citizenr (871508)

        You do realize that scientists have a higher burden of proof, right? They aren't going to say it's water until they analyze it and can confirm with certainty what it is.

        You missed the point completelly. Why exactly did they send that probe there in the first place? to use it as a remote camera, or maybe to analyze some shit? Probe lands in the puddle, gets covered in droplets, thers some frost like growth .. and ALL this multi milion dollar probe can do is take pictures? ...

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Beelzebud (1361137)
          Well if you had any knowledge of the rover mission you'd know that it was a geological mission, and the rover has many instruments for analyzing minerals in rocks.
          It didn't have something to test for water on itself because when the mission was designed no one thought there might actually be liquid water splashing on the thing. It's easy to sit in your armchair and criticize something with 20/20 hindsight.
      • by khallow (566160) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @06:22PM (#26952385)

        Damn right it's my tax dollars at work, and millions of us approve of it.

        I agree except with the "at work" part. Scientific exploration on Mars is just an expensive hobby right now. For example, if there had been 5 Phoenix landers instead of one (five landers incidentally would have cost less than five times the cost of one Phoenix lander), we'd be able to compare the legs of the working vehicles. By launching one, they eliminated an important part of scientific observation, namely being able to repeat an observation. As it is, I don't see how this discovery will be "confirmed" over any reasonable length of time. It may well be decades before anything concrete can be said.

        As I see it, there are three ways they could make those tax dollars work for Mars exploration: 1) faster probe development and larger batch sizes when a probe is developed and built, 2) sample return, 2018 is the scheduled date for the first sample return mission, and 3) a long term manned presence on Mars. Some of these options will drive up costs a bit. But if you're interested in your tax dollars "working"...

        • by sgtrock (191182)

          For example, if there had been 5 Phoenix landers instead of one (five landers incidentally would have cost less than five times the cost of one Phoenix lander), we'd be able to compare the legs of the working vehicles.

          I've read through this sentence 5 times and I still don't see how your math works. 5 times anything costing X will equal 5X in any math book that I saw (mumble) decades ago. What am I missing?

  • Silly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by clarkkent09 (1104833) * on Sunday February 22, 2009 @04:06PM (#26951287)
    You'd think any lander we send up there looking for water would have the ability to analyze any liquid droplets growing, merging, and dripping on the lander's leg over the course of a Martian month.

    Another example of why the "why send humans, robots can do everything just as well" idea is bogus. If that was an astronaut up there this would be resolved in a minute, not a month.
    • Re:Silly (Score:5, Funny)

      by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @04:15PM (#26951335)

      If that was an astronaut up there this would be resolved in a minute, not a month.

      ...Astronaut samples the water, "Hmm, tastes pretty good...gack...gack..." Cue any number of "Martian Zombie" movies... Now do you see why we just send robots? Sure their programming sometimes goes bad and they start killing us, but don't EAT OUR BRAINS!

      • Hmm, I meant more like analyzing by other means that tasting it...

        Astronaut: "Mission Control, I see some strange liquid substance here on Mars, how should I proceed?"

        Mission Control: "Hey, why don't you just pop it in your mouth, see what it tastes like"

        Astronaut: "Mmm, yummy"

        Mission Control: "You do realize that was a joke,...... right?"

        Astronaut: "Must...kill...humans..."
        • by GayBliss (544986)

          Hmm, I meant more like analyzing by other means that tasting it...

          So we really just need his arm to transfer the droplet from the leg to the testing device. We should be able to send a robot capable of that with much less cost and time. If the first 10 attempts fail, we are still ahead...

          And if takes another year or 5 years, it's not really time critical. Unless of course you have a human sitting on the planet waiting for a replacement testing device and a sandwich.

      • Sure their programming sometimes goes bad and they start killing us, but don't EAT OUR BRAINS!

        Entirely their loss, as far as I'm concerned.

        *is treated to a thoughtful lunch*

      • by snowgirl (978879) *

        If that was an astronaut up there this would be resolved in a minute, not a month.

        ...Astronaut samples the water, "Hmm, tastes pretty good...gack...gack..." Cue any number of "Martian Zombie" movies... Now do you see why we just send robots? Sure their programming sometimes goes bad and they start killing us, but don't EAT OUR BRAINS!

        You obviously haven't seen any Martian Zombie Robot films...

        • You obviously haven't seen any Martian Zombie Robot films...

          Does Futurama count?

          Bender: Hey baby, wanna kill all humans?

    • Re:Silly (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Morty (32057) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @04:33PM (#26951463) Journal

      Sending an astronaut is many times as expensive, since we need more safety, need to keep the astronaut alive during the long trip over, and need to bring the astronaut back. After all, we have already sent the lander, but are not scheduled to send people for many years. So it's probably better to send the machine and wait a month than to wait the many years before we can send a person.

      It also helps to know a lot about the environment before we risk sending an astronaut.

    • by grumbel (592662)

      If you would have send humans, they would have already left the planet years ago and never made that discovery in the first place. Oh, an of course it would have cost 1000 times as much as those rovers. Humans in space really only serves the purpose of learning how to keep humans alive in space, if you want to get actual science done, you are much better of spending that money robots.

    • The Phoenix lander had an arm; it could have easily touched these globules to see whether they were liquid as well. It didn't because they were discovered after mission end. The same can happen to you on a manned mission. But let's look at the costs...

      The Phoenix mission cost $386 million (development, launch, mission). That sounds like a lot until you realize that a single space shuttle launch costs $500 million. A human mission to Mars costs at least $500 billion if everything goes right. That's mor

    • by initialE (758110)

      Seeing as this is a 1-way trip, sure he's spent 1 minute sampling the water, but what's he going to do with the rest of his life?

    • You'd think any lander we send up there looking for water would have the ability to analyze any liquid droplets growing, merging, and dripping on the lander's leg over the course of a Martian month.

      It is entirely possible that the sampling arm cannot touch the leg of the lander. The arm may have limit switches and/or physical blocks that prevent it. After all, you wouldn't want to get the sampling arm pinned in the landing struts if there is a software glitch. Besides, there may not be a tool on the s
  • If there is ice there is water http://wever.wordpress.com/2008/07/18/its-official-water-ice-on-mars/ [wordpress.com]

    But the droplets now seen are cooler... err, they're warmer (pun originally not intended)

  • Dear ___funding agency____, Is there surface water on Mars? We need to send another mission to Mars. It should cost less than the amount of money GM asked for bailout during this funding period to study this question, and 2 five-year funding periods to really find out. Please send money. JPL/NASA
    • Dear JPL. While we are thrilled about your discovery, Mars isn't going anywhere. We are trying to save the economy and lesten the impact of this economic down turn so that we can spend even more money on you guys in the future. Spending 10 billion on machinists creates more jobs than spending 10 billion on rocket scientists. Hope you understand.

      Funding Agency.

      • by BlueStrat (756137) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @08:11PM (#26953251)

        Dear JPL. While we are thrilled about your discovery, Mars isn't going anywhere. We are trying to save the economy and lesten the impact of this economic down turn so that we can spend even more money on you guys in the future. Spending 10 billion on machinists creates more jobs than spending 10 billion on rocket scientists. Hope you understand.

        Funding Agency.

        Dear _Funding Agency_,

        We here at JPL understand your position. Since you feel that the space program has no benefits worth funding, we'll be sending over a large fleet of trucks to collect all your computers and other technology made possible by research connected with said space program.

        We understand your need to keep operating however, and in the spirit of mutual understanding you've shown us, we will be sending you Univac for your future computational needs. Please have a very large building with a large electrical power system and a team of vacuum-tube replacement technicians ready.

        Best of luck,

        JPL

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Convector (897502)

      Just FYI, NASA _is_ the funding agency.

      Below is a marginal summary of the process. My colleagues will no doubt correct me where needed. For the record, IAAPS (I am a planetary scientist). It's a terrible system, but it's better than any of the alternatives.

      Congress gives NASA some amount of money each year (~0.6% of the total budget). The bulk of this goes to the shuttle and space station programs, but a significant fraction is leftover for science and mission operations. This is portioned out to the

  • Martian dog (Score:5, Funny)

    by flyingfsck (986395) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @04:55PM (#26951667)
    It proves that a Martian dog found a leg to pee on.
    • by macshit (157376)

      It proves that a Martian dog found a leg to pee on.

      ... and he had been holding it in for close to five billion years! ("Any place to pee now?" "nope" "...how about now?" "nope" "oooh, a rock! roof! er, how about now?"... "nope"...)

      Guaranteed, that martian dog is now, Our Friend!

  • by mbone (558574) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @05:12PM (#26951795)

    I don't see that this is that surprising. The Phoenix landing site was low enough to have the surface pressure above the "triple point" of water, so liquid water is just a matter of having it being warm enough (or having enough salts to depress the freezing point enough).

    • Makes me wonder if all the digging into the permafrost increased humidity around the lander, and caused condensation on the structure.
      • by mbone (558574)

        The lander did have heaters [newscientist.com]...

        • by mbone (558574)

          Thinking about it, if any parts of the Phoenix surface were heated above 0 C, liquid water condensation would have almost certainly formed there.

  • by speedtux (1307149) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @06:47PM (#26952559)

    The fact that liquid water can be stable on the surface of Mars has been known for a while. Direct observation, of course, is nice. The next question is whether there might be significant open bodies of water (brine) in some locations. Some satellite photographs could be interpreted that way.

    The existence of perchlorates adds another dimension, though, because they are such an effective anti-freeze and a potential metabolite. The perchlorates might actually be biologically generated on Mars, somewhat similar to the way organisms on Earth have generated large amounts of oxygen and changed the environment on a global scale. On Earth, reduction in CO2 levels was an important factor in making the climate more hospitable, and on Mars, generation of perchlorates may make the water more accessible.

    • by MtViewGuy (197597)

      Liquid water can be stable on Mars' atmosphere provided the water contains a LOT of perchlorate minerals in the water. That means the water with these minerals will vaporize much more slowly than just plain water, which will literally boil away at the equivalent of 90,000 feet altitude (which is pretty close to the atmospheric pressure of Mars).

      • by CptNerd (455084)
        Should be easy to know, if the lander had a "weather station" two of the measurements should have been atmospheric pressure and temperature. One other problem I have with the "liquid water blobs" is that the images were all taken in the shadow of the lander, which would be even colder than any measured atmospheric temperature above the lander.
  • If the probe can take self-pictures, wouldn't wavelength-specific pictures be easily taken with a handful of filters, and then the pictures sent back to earth for spectrochemical analysis?

    I'm tired of these "signal", "may", and "perhaps". The technology is definitely there to give a definite answer.

  • Wait... liquid??? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Murpster (1274988) on Monday February 23, 2009 @01:55AM (#26954953)
    So this is supposedly water, or some other liquid, that's forming on exposed metal on a generally windy planet, and we're seeing photos over a 36 day period. Then why is it that there are quite a few persistent blobs that stay in the same place with basically the same shape over that period, while new ones form? Have any of you ever seen water droplets on your car retain their position and shape over 36 hours, much less 36 days? Isn't Mars generally pretty windy? Shouldn't there be much more rearrangement of blobs between these photos if we were looking at something like rain or condensation? If you showed me a picture series like that and said was a picture of a plant on Earth, I'd look at the spreading blobs and immediately tell you it was showing a spreading infestation of scale bugs (or some mealybug relative perhaps). Not saying this is evidence of life on Mars, but I'm interested to hear an explanation of how exposed liquid droplets on a metal surface outdoors can be persistent for that long, while more and more of them appear as time goes on.

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