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Mars NASA Space Science

Mars Orbiter Finds Buried Dry Ice Lake 96

Posted by timothy
from the hip-cocktails-all-around dept.
RedEaredSlider writes "NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has found a giant buried deposit of dry ice, which could be evidence that Mars once had a thicker atmosphere and was able to have more water on its surface. The orbiter's ground-penetrating radar found the dry ice, which is frozen carbon dioxide, near the planet's south pole. The scientists think that when Mars' axial tilt increases, the carbon dioxide turns into a gas, thickening the atmosphere. The result would be more intense dust storms, but also a wider range of areas where liquid water could exist."
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Mars Orbiter Finds Buried Dry Ice Lake

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Mars isn't protected by a strong magnetic field like Earth is.. meaning the atmosphere is frequently subjected to solar winds and radiation.. meaning any thickening of the atmosphere is not likely to remain constant for any meaningful time period.

    • by biryokumaru (822262) <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Thursday April 21, 2011 @09:05PM (#35902812)
      Doesn't that also mean that solar radiation is a cheap and abundant source of power? Is there the possibility of a surface-based Dyson-Harrop type system?
      • by Cyberax (705495)

        Nope. It means that solar power is about 4 times lower at the surface of Mars than on the Earth, but at the same time about 100 times deadlier.

        The best of both worlds, you see!

    • by khallow (566160)
      How long is a "meaningful time period?" It'd probably be good for a few million years.
    • by jd (1658) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {kapimi}> on Thursday April 21, 2011 @09:56PM (#35903100) Homepage Journal

      In the early days, the Martian core would not yet have solidified. Thus, the magnetic field would have been substantially stronger. The fact that it's still semi-liquid today (as evidenced by the fact that there's any magnetic field now at all) is the remarkable part of the story. 3-4 billion years ago, the Martian magnetic field would likely have been far more intense than Earth's is today. Hell, Earth's magnetic field a paltry 220 million years ago was 33% stronger than present by some estimates, and Earth's core is heated by thermonuclear activity. The Martian core likely isn't to any meaningful degree.

      Back when briney oceans formed the Martian surface (we already know that part), Mars would have been a bad place for floppy disks.

      • >Earth's core is heated by thermonuclear activity

        No, it's radioactive decay.

        • I remember a magazine article years ago talking about the earth having a nuclear reactor at the core. Wikipedia has an article on the idea of a Georeactor [wikipedia.org].
          • by Tycho (11893)

            Much like another certain individual with the surname Dyson who is a also physicist, Herndon should stick to physics and take the word of reputable scientists when trespassing in a field they have little familiarity and seem to be uninterested in studying more, much less attempt to understand. Should either individual attempt this they would lose their current status as cranks, which would be advantageous for everyone.

            On the other hand, the natural nuclear reactor in Oklo, Gabon is something that did happe

  • And what is dry ice made from? Yup, CO2.

    Martian Global Warming did them in!

    • Re:Dry ice (Score:5, Funny)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @09:06PM (#35902820) Journal
      Actually, if you want to go for the +1 funny anticipation of the global warming troll, The argument should probably be that this is an example of What Carbon Sequestration Will Do... At the prodding of Al(ien) Gore and his envirofascist minions, the Martians turned their formerly habitable planet into a desert wasteland through reckless carbon sequestration spurred by the 'global warming' conspiracy...
      • No, I've ran this through my Arduino powered computer models. The CO2 freezes out of the atmosphere after the warming part is over, just before the LEDs blink in rapid succession.

      • The scary thing is that this is hard to distinguish from the real deal... You have to mix in something about solar activity, though.
  • by MrQuacker (1938262) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @08:49PM (#35902648)
    The deposit is about 3,000 cubic miles, or about the volume of Lake Superior

    Now thats a lot of CO2. Now the question is, what can we do with it? Are there any simple ways to turn it onto C and O2? I'm thinking graphite or carbor bricks/powder for radiation shielding, and O2 for breathing.

    • Well I was thinking sharks and laser beams, but OK, have it your way.
    • I think a couple of thermonuclear warheads might break the ice a little. It might even raise the atmospheric pressure by a considerable amount, and thus raise the temperature. As for the fallout? Meh, it might not be that bad depending on the decay rate and how efficient the bombs are.

      • Re:Wowza (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Dahamma (304068) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @10:37PM (#35903298)

        See, this is why the human race is doomed. Every time we discover something new, the first thing we want to do is nuke it...

        • by avgjoe62 (558860)

          the first thing we want to do is nuke it

          Because it's the only way to be sure, as long as it's done from orbit...

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by c6gunner (950153)

          See, this is why the human race is doomed

          No, this is why the human race is FUCKING AWESOME!!!!

        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          No this is why we are not doomed and are human. We are tool users and makers. Convert CO2 back into gas? Increase the green house effect and warm mars? If Mars is lifeless the Yea go for it.
          I would probably not use nukes but if we could hit it with a comet that could also add a good bit of water and release it into the atmosphere.
          Yes even a thermonuclear warhead can be a tool for creation.

        • by Tablizer (95088)

          Because we learned science from MythBusters.

      • by Jarnin (925269)
        Or you could just land a fission reactor on the surface and let it go into meltdown. Not as fun to watch, but you wouldn't be able to see much anyway.
      • I think a couple of thermonuclear warheads might break the ice a little.

        You must be great at parties. (Not to mention blind dates.)

    • by snl2587 (1177409)

      Are there any simple ways to turn it onto C and O2?

      Short answer? No.

      This is an ongoing area of research, but CO2 reduction is difficult to do in any practical amount.

    • Re:Wowza (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @09:03PM (#35902800) Journal
      Probably the easiest(in terms of being comparatively low-tech, easy to scale, and having numerous positive side effects), is a time-tested technology we call "Plants".

      Given a few nutrients, a supply of CO2, and their favorite flavors of photon, those suckers are pretty efficient at turning CO2 into O2 and assorted carbon compounds, many with structural or culinary applications(and pretty easy to turn to straight carbon, if you prefer).

      A hypothetical exploitation of these dry-ice deposits would presumably involve underground greenhouses(for protection from dust storms and insulation) lighted by LEDs emitting the correct bands for optimal plant growth, and provided with a moisture and CO2 rich environment by some sort of melting mechanism, probably mirrors or a radiothermal unit.
      • So, build the Mars bases out of the graphene stuff from the prior article, and have a good base of food during construction. Cool.

      • Given a few nutrients, a supply of CO2, and their favorite flavors of photon, those suckers are pretty efficient at turning CO2 into O2 and assorted carbon compounds, many with structural or culinary applications(and pretty easy to turn to straight carbon, if you prefer).

        You missed water. If I remember correctly, the O2 actually comes from water.

      • Plants need O2 too. That doesn't necessarily mean that we can't bootstrap the process though.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I would be more concerned about the lack neutral gases like nitrogen. I suppose in a closed system, the other gases will not be consumed like oxygen would, but there is still a need to find a way to get them there effectively. If nothing else, the CO2 could be used to harvest plant life, which would in turn create the O2 that you desire.

      It would be nice if there was an algae/bacteria/plant that could grow well in iron rich soil with little maintenance.

    • Re:Wowza (Score:5, Funny)

      by similar_name (1164087) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @09:59PM (#35903114)

      Are there any simple ways to turn it onto C and O2?

      I can't resist. Plants. :)

      • Yeah, I was thinking more along the lines of: land machine, flip switch to "on", make oxygen for the humans.
    • Going from CO2 to C and O2 is an endothermic reaction. You can heat the CO2 and crack it into those components. The heat can come from concentrated solar energy or a fission reactor. Beyond that you would have to look at hypothetical fusion power, etc. Plant life can do the job as well. Thats a different sort of solar power. I doubt that you could get much in the way of earth life to live on Mars as it is now.

    • Quaaaaaaiiid.... Start.. the re..ac..torrr...
  • by History's Coming To (1059484) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @09:09PM (#35902852) Journal
    Nuke it from orbit. It's the only way to be sure. Use a bunch of hydrogen bombs, or better a big parabolic death-ray....sorry, life-mirror, and vapourise the caps. Then scatter as much simple CO2 metabolising life as possible over the temperate regions. Sit back and watch evolution take hold. Might take a while. Just an idea...
    • Re:Terraforming 101 (Score:4, Informative)

      by alostpacket (1972110) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @09:21PM (#35902920) Homepage
      Wouldn't the problem be that the solar wind would just blow away the atmosphere? From what I understand Mars has a very weak and unstable magnetic field (unlike the Earth). http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2001/ast31jan_1/ [nasa.gov]
      • by Jarnin (925269)
        This is the counter argument to terraforming that pops up on Slashdot in just about every story that has popped up about Mars. Yes, solar winds will gently blow the atmosphere off into space. The thing is, depending on how thick the atmosphere is, this could take tens of thousands of years, maybe even millions of years. In other words, we could replenish the atmosphere (by melting dry ice, diverting and burning up comets in the atmosphere, etc) as needed.
        • by hey! (33014)

          But one of the motivations for the huge job of terraforming Mars would be to create a second, long term home for humanity. If that home had only a several thousand year lifespan it would be much less attractive.

          In any case, a nearly entirely CO2 atmosphere wouldn't be what you wanted in a terraforming operation. You'd need a lot more Nitrogen, which is critical in terrestrial biochemstry. Earth's atmosphere is almost 80% N2. Mars' atmosphere is 95% CO2 and 3% N2. If you vaporized some reservoir of dr

    • by jd (1658)

      Actually, what you want to do is drill right down to the Martian core and dump a mix of nuclear waste and/or highly-enriched uranium into it. You won't be able to re-liquify the core, but the more heat you can generate, the stronger the magnetic field will get. At worst, you get a practical study in how the magnetic field forms in the first place (still not completely understood). At best, you reduce the difficulty in terraforming in any kind of stable way.

      • by Sperbels (1008585)
        I really hope this was meant as a joke.
      • You would be better off using your fissile materials at the surface where the heat they generate would be usable to you immediately. I reckon you could actually create a pretty good magnetic field for Mars by working entirely at the surface. Just build a planet spanning electromagnet using superconductors. You would need a lot of energy, but terraforming is going to be expensive anyway. You pretty much have to assume cheap, large scale nuclear fusion.

  • So you mean the movie was actually a prophecy? I wonder if this means we'll find nuclear reactors down there to heat the CO2 up for us... Let's just hope Arnold wasn't right about the machines... Only a few more hours of J-Day left hope we can last it out without incident.
  • by Tackhead (54550) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @09:18PM (#35902900)
    Laughter and derision swept through our world today as the Council of Elders confirmed the rumors that an orbiting mechanized invader from the sinister blue planet third from our star had been spending an inordinate amount of time examining one of our world's most commonly-available resources.

    K'Breel, Speaker for the Council, stressed yet again that there was no cause for alarm:

    "This invader last located the remains of the northern invader which stands frozen to the spot, its flailing futilely in the wind [slashdot.org]. If these beings seek to attempt a second invasion from the south, it shall meet the same fate as their last attempt three years ago [slashdot.org]. The fools! The resources they study are so common that they compose 95% of our air!"

    When a junior climatologist pointed out that the atmosphere of the blue world, holding a mere 0.04% carbox, was sadly lacking in this vital atmospheric component, and that the blue world's inhabitants had not only spent centuries trying to generate much as possible of it to supplant their meager atmospheric supply, but had even murdered millions of their own kind in struggles for control of their world's vital carboxogenic hydrocarbounds, K'breel (in his infinite mercy) had the contents of the junior climatologist's gelsacs extracted, gasified with pure compressed carbox, and consumed it as a refreshing drink.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, I miss Douglas Adams too.

  • So? (Score:4, Funny)

    by squiggly12 (1298191) on Thursday April 21, 2011 @09:28PM (#35902966) Journal
    Does this mean Quaid screws everything up???
    • q: So Quiad, how cold was it?
      a: Lol! It was so cold I had to boil my Oxygen!

      Sure! melt it all somehow and put CO2 into the air until it snows back down as ice or rains down freezing liquid air... So we somehow heat up the whole area and the little atmosphere with a big heat lamp...Then we trigger the core to spin again in our Unobtanium drilling machine so Mars can keep the Atmosphere it was unable to maintain itself... In the process we discover that in fact, we broke Mars and escaped to Earth...and the ma

  • Haven't you seen it on Doctor Who?
  • could be evidence that Mars once had a thicker atmosphere and was able to have more water on its surface

    They say this about everything they discover about Mars... Just replace the headline with "Scientists discover XXX on Mars, which could indicate that Mars once had water."
  • ... the Orbiter had discovered huge deposits of precious metals or rare-earth elements. This might trigger more funding for these missions in the future. I personally want to see a discovery of a mountain of Gold just to push prices down on Earth :S What will happen to the global economy if such a thing came to pass? Aren't all currencies backed by gold reserves?
  • A mass of solid CO2 would make a great place for a habitat. Tunnel into it and use steam from your fission reactor (you have one of those, right?) to create a dome by sublimation. Coat the inside of the dome with frozen water to keep the CO2 out of your air as much as possible.

    I think I have lost my copy of Red Mars. Maybe I should buy it again.

  • So all I have to do is tilt Mars on its axis and we'll have a second life-suistanable planet?

    Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move this world.
  • by scorp1us (235526) on Friday April 22, 2011 @08:02AM (#35905642) Journal

    Carbon dioxide is not the key here. After all, Mars and Venus are both primarily CO2 atmospheres (Earth:Nitrogen). However the two planets have vastly different temperatures, even after accounting for Venus's increased solar radiation. What I think is the key here, is pressure at the surface. Releasing more CO2 on Mars won't increase the greenhouse effect (diminishing returns), but it will make the surface atmosphere denser, which means higher surface temperatures, at least until it gets stripped away by the solar wind, because Mars does not have a protective magnetic field.

    Which brings in my model of how it all got there. After the magnetic field died, the solar wind stripped the atmosphere until it wasn't dense enough to maintain liquid water... Then the same came true for gaseous CO2. Logically it accumulated in the first place it started to get cold enough to solidify. I doubt we'll see it get released due to 1) still not mag field and 2) its in the last place to heat up.

  • Since apparently we are going back to the gold standard, why not look for good old fashion gold instead?

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