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Mars NASA Space Science

NASA's Gypsum Find Clear Evidence There Was Water On Mars 162

Posted by timothy
from the plaster-of-mars-would-be-really-expensive dept.
First time accepted submitter RCC42 writes "The Opportunity rover has found evidence that liquid water once flowed on Mars, through the discovery of gypsum — a mineral that can only be formed in the presence of water. Though other evidence in the past has suggested highly acidic water on Mars, this is the first evidence for water with a pH suitable for life as we know it."
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NASA's Gypsum Find Clear Evidence There Was Water On Mars

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  • how much gypsum? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wierd_w (1375923) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @07:02PM (#38309438)

    Are we talking just a thin crust, or are we talking "gypsum quarry" size formations?

    The reason I ask, is gypsum contains absurd quantities of chemically bound water. If mars has a higher calcium ion concentration than earth does, and had liquid oceans at one time, it is possible that with the carbon dioxide rich atmosphere and lack of techtonic plate movement that a sizable quantity of the ocean turned into "concrete" rather than drying up.

    This would mean that much of the light elements (hydrogen, etc) might have escaped being blown off the atmosphere.

    This is exciting news for science fiction writers that like to dream about terraforming. Creating techtonic activity would create the geomagnetic dynamo the planet needs, and as a consequence of the subduction and volcanism, huge quantities of water vapor would be expelled as a volcanic gas.

    About all the planet would need would be ammonia, for the missing nitrogen. (Doesn't titan have an ammonia atmosphere? Wink, nudge.)

    This does not mean the planet would go from lifeless desert to habitable overnight, as the gasses relased would be inhospitable to oxygen dependant life like us, but certain algae species like chlorella can survive in 100% C02 atmospheric concentrations as long as there is sunlight and water. Chlorella is well researched, fully genomically sequenced, and already has engineered varieties. A strain intended to rapidly convert the atmosphere to something a bit less toxic would actually be fairly plausible.

    • by SoupGuru (723634) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @07:22PM (#38309612)

      Creating techtonic activity would create the geomagnetic dynamo the planet needs

      I'll get right on that and let you know when I'm done so we can move to the next phase.

      • by wierd_w (1375923)

        If you want to get all touchy feely in your story, this would be a good constructive use of the earth's nuclear arsenal.

        Plate techtonics is at least partially powered by radiological decay.

        • by d3ac0n (715594)

          Well, the difficulties of boring large holes down the center of Mars to set off the nukes (doesn't do any good to nuke the surface) do present some problems.

          And the fact that Mars simply isn't massive enough to maintain that heat anyway. Any terraforming project would be short-term as Mars would rapidly cool off and lose it's magnetic shield again.

          Seems to me Mars needs to bulk up. Using spacecraft to redirect large asteroids into Mars using the gravity tractor method seems like a viable way to bulk it u

          • by d3ac0n (715594)

            Just took the time to put in in decimal, just for fun.

            In decimal notation that's as follows.

            Mars + all of the Asteroid belt = 645,050,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg

            Earth = 5,973,600,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg

            So, as you can see, Mars would still be an order of magnitude smaller than Earth, but MUCH larger than it's current size if we were to bombard it with the contents of the asteroid belt, thus adding to it's mass.

      • Easy - you fire Titan into it. A few small nudges at the right time in its orbit (think large nukes just outside the atmosphere) and you can get Saturn to slingshot it, pick up an assist from Jupiter, and fall all the way in. Easy, provides the nitrogen needed, and should only take a few thousands or tens of thousands of years. Get back to me when we're ready to build nuclear bomb factories on Titan and I'll talk you through the rest ;)
        • Re:how much gypsum? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by wierd_w (1375923) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @09:04PM (#38310510)

          Titan is larger than earth's moon.

          Mars is smaller than the Earth.

          Smashing titan into mars would probably be a bad thing. (A very, very bad thing. That is, unless you like the idea of scattering huge chunks of rock into space. See for instance, the collision simulation for the hypothesis of earth's moon's formation.)

          Better, would be to go ahead and nudge the moon out of saturns orbit, have it fall into the inner solar system, sweep a wide orbit of the sun, then fall into orbit around mars.

          Best to use a trans ecliptic orbit, so that the falling body doesn't adversely effect other inner planet systems.

          Once in martian orbit, titan's gravity would cause intense mantle heating of the red planet. It is likely that titan's atmosphere would freeze and snow out after being dislodged from saturn's orbit, due to the lack of tidal heating while it transits. Mars' tidal forces would be miniscule compared to saturn's, though being in the habitable zone might be enough to heat titan enough to reconstitute the atmosphere. Unknown.

          It is concievable that with both bodies in the habitable zone, that both bodies could be actively terraformed.

          Titan is presumed to have a silicate core, and not an iron nickle one like mars and earth. This means that it wouldn't disrupt the new martian magnetosphere. (Like our moon doesn't.)

          Mars is more massive than titan, and if the atmosphere reconstitutes, mars might just rip it off titan.

          • by ceoyoyo (59147)

            Titan's atmosphere is mostly nitrogen. That would definitely not be frozen at Mars' distance from the sun. It extends a long way out though, so if you put Titan in a reasonably close orbit of Mars it would probably transfer. And there's lots of it.

            Moving the planet might be tricky though. Especially if you don't want to lose the atmosphere.

          • by Hadlock (143607)

            If you have the capability to move a planet out of orbit and in the direction you want it to go, given the distance you should be able to fine tune the impact velocity using gravity wells and orbit corrections to somewhere just above zero, and then just wait for Titan to uh, melt, on to Mars over a period of centuries.

    • About all the planet would need would be ammonia, for the missing nitrogen. (Doesn't titan have an ammonia atmosphere? Wink, nudge.)

      You're right. There is a sci-fi novel in that: The domestic house apes of planet Earth fling Titan into Mars. Alien microbes from Titan thrive and mutate on Mars, becoming toxic to hoo-mahns. "Oh, Jordy Verrill, you lunkhead!"

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Zargg (1596625)

      Are we talking just a thin crust, or are we talking "gypsum quarry" size formations?

      FTA: The gypsum vein — which scientists spotted last month and nicknamed “Homestake” — is approximately the width of a human thumb and about 16 to 20 inches long.

      • by wierd_w (1375923)

        Also FTA: there are large dunes of gypsum sand in the north polar region. Possibly there are large pans of the stuff, as the sand had to come from somewhere.

  • by JStyle (833234) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @07:10PM (#38309490)
    Now that it has finally done a good job, it can come home....

    XKCD [xkcd.com]
  • by no-body (127863) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @07:13PM (#38309532)

    runaway climate, oceans evaporate, a couple of million years later some beings from Europe may wonder, was there ever life on this desert planet? And a next round of silliness starts again.

  • by Pvt_Waldo (459439) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @07:14PM (#38309542)

    Now I know who will be the first to industrialize Mars.

  • ...but there are a couple of moons with surfaces covered in water ice RIGHT NOW which have liquid water below the surface, so it's hard for me to get excited.

  • Plenty of evidence from orbiters and rovers. Current liquid water underground is unknown. The new fluid channels seen now and then could be something other than water.

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