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Mars Science

Despite Clay Minerals, Early Mars Might Have Been Dry 105

Posted by timothy
from the but-omg-mars dept.
astroengine writes "Early Mars may not have been as warm or wet as scientists suspect, a finding which could impact the likelihood that the Red Planet was capable of evolving life at the time when it was getting started on Earth. A new study presents an alternative explanation for the prevalence of Mars' ancient clay minerals, which on Earth most often result from water chemically reacting with rock over long periods of time. The process is believed to be a starting point for life."
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Despite Clay Minerals, Early Mars Might Have Been Dry

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  • Hmmm... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by EddyGL (15300)

    How does this explain away the alleged river channels, deltas, salts found by the rovers, etc... etc... and other evidence of large amount of water?

  • by tetrahedrassface (675645) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @06:47PM (#41283417) Journal

    This isn't new news, but the scientific establishment that gets the budgets to conduct space exploration is selling us Mars because they know it is doable within the context of current budgets and technologies. Mars is pretty much way too dry and has been. It also lacks a magnetosphere and despite *one lame little plate* any hint of past large scale plate tectonics. Mars is interesting for sure, but it would be nice to also have a real base on luna with which to assemble a vehicle to take us on to Mars and with which to test technologies with the intent of sending humans on to Mars. Europa and even Venus deserve attention as well, but it seems Mars is in our comfort zone so we keep going back....

    • I too would much rather see an investment in the moon. It is close enough that we can courier equipment, people, and supplies with the intent of setting up a foothold in space. I think it would take years to get to the point where we have a significant presence there, but having that reduced atmosphere and reduced gravity environment would most likely further our capabilities quite a bit more than speculating on the amount of water Mars had in the past.

      Stage supplies in earth orbit while building a basic tr

      • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:12PM (#41283861) Homepage

        Not much on the moon of any use. Mining stuff anywhere off earth is a long way from being practical. If you want to build a transfer station, do it in orbit (like LEO, just what the ISS is doing).

        Personally, I'd like us to spend more money and time on the Jovian satellites but then again, I'd like NASA to get to spend more money - lots more money. At the current piddly rate we're funding space exploration, you really can't expect to be able to pull off any major exploration goal. Right now we're just doing simple and cheap things (relatively speaking) and hoping that the funding situation gets better.

        You can certainly argue all day about whether or not it's an appropriate goal for a country, but you're not going to get very far with the nickel and dime approach we're currently using. Not that JPL isn't doing neat science - and given the financial limitations that they work in, they've done a fantastic job, it's just to really answer a lot of the questions we are posing and to enable us to even think about pulling resources from space, we're not doing jack.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          I completely agree with the "nickel and dime" approach. I was not suggesting that we mine the moon for resources. My use of the moon is to give us a stable structure to build a base on.

          The ISS is an awesome idea, but we limit our exposure to space by just sending supplies and equipment to the same spot without ever reaching further. The shuttle program was definitely a success if you are willing to limit your goals to just looking down on the earth in awe. Had we spent those 135 missions pushing toward the

          • A big *amen* to both of you.

          • I completely agree with the "nickel and dime" approach. I was not suggesting that we mine the moon for resources. My use of the moon is to give us a stable structure to build a base on.

            The problem is - it costs an order of magnitude more to reach the moon, and you no more need a "stable base" than you a fish needs a bicycle.

            You also make your [Mars bound[ space craft more expensive by requiring to boost from the surface of the moon, and by adding the need to endure the [harsher than LEO] lunar tempe

            • You also make your [Mars bound[ space craft more expensive by requiring to boost from the surface of the moon, and by adding the need to endure the [harsher than LEO] lunar temperature environment.

              Won't argue about temp issues, but it takes rather less deltaV to go from Luna surface to a Mars transition orbit than it does to go from LEO to a Mars transition orbit.

              Never mind that we can get reaction mass and/or fuel from the Moon....

              • You also make your [Mars bound[ space craft more expensive by requiring to boost from the surface of the moon, and by adding the need to endure the [harsher than LEO] lunar temperature environment.

                Won't argue about temp issues, but it takes rather less deltaV to go from Luna surface to a Mars transition orbit than it does to go from LEO to a Mars transition orbit.

                True, but when you add in the deltaV to get to the Moon in the first place... plus all the costs associated with getting the base built and su

                • True, but when you add in the deltaV to get to the Moon in the first place... plus all the costs associated with getting the base built and supported and boosting the materials and equipment to the Moon... The few tens of thousands of dollars you 'save' in fuel start to look like the chump change they are

                  This is only true if the only thing you're using the Moon for is a fuel depot. Actually building large parts of your Mars vehicle on the Moon.makes a certain amount of the problem of boosting those same

        • by Baloroth (2370816) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @09:33PM (#41284249)

          The advantage to the moon is assembly of parts can be done their under the effects of gravity. Assembling large projects from parts might sound easier in micro-gravity, but maneuvering becomes such a pain it's a lot easier for humans to work under gravitational effects (it's how we evolved to operate). It also has signs of ice for water, so you could potentially use it as a cheap source for that, and may well have other viable minerals usable in space exploration. We are a far way from mining the Moon for Earth use. Unless we find some extremely rare mineral there (like Platinum), most stuff we need is vastly easier to find on Earth. No, mining and manufacturing on the Moon would be as a staging ground for further exploration. Escape velocity there is ~1/3 Earth's, so it's about as easy to transfer from there to deep-space as it would be from LEO anyways.

          Not to mention it would serve as a nice test of our ability to establish a base on another world without being out of (relatively easy) reach of Earth, and there is a ton of Lunar science to be done on the surface yet.

        • Tell congress there are Arabs and Oil on Titan and there'll be 300,000 marines there inside a month. Seriously, if they would spend even a part of the money that is spent unnecessarily on defence (seioursly... with that kind of spending how can they calll it defense?), there would not only be a moon base, but Disneyland and NFL franchises there AND on Mars. It is a fact that America spends almost as much money [wikipedia.org] on its military as all other countries combined. If you want a reason why things aren't happening
        • by Gripp (1969738)

          Mining stuff anywhere off earth is a long way from being practical.

          Yes.... but I think from the very lengthy debate that follows your post it's clear that everyone agrees we need to start launching less from earth and more from orbit.
          The problem I see with this is that we still have to launch from earth to get there. I think eventually we will be able to mine and manufacture in space, limiting the need to launch from earth to only getting people or specific/complex devices up there. Ultimately allowing us to build much bigger and better space "stuff" . And IMO starting

      • it is because of energy considerations a base on the moon is useless. you could make a huge spaceshp there, but where does the *fuel* for it come from? the only practical source of oxidizer there is water, and water is extrememly rare on the moon despite the recent hoopla about finding moisture at a level that makes the flour in your kitchen look wet.

        as long as we use chemical rockiets, the moon is a foolish stopping point or base.

        • by spauldo (118058)

          There's tons of energy on the moon, if you're using solar and temperature differential sources.

          As far as getting your spaceship off the moon, you throw it [wikipedia.org], although you'd probably throw individual modules and assemble them in orbit. Fueling the spacecraft would be more complicated, but hey, it's a lot cheaper to launch a few tanks of rocket fuel into space from Earth than a whole spaceship.

        • by yndrd1984 (730475)

          moisture at a level that makes the flour in your kitchen look wet

          Flour is 10%-15% water, BTW.

          Besides, I'd assume we were going with nuclear engines/solar sails/ion drives once we "broke atmo".

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Men have a natural tendency to exaggerate how warm and wet things used to be.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      luna? You mean the moon, right?

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      Mars is pretty much way too dry and has been.

      It's true that Mars is chosen as a target for rover missions because it's "easy" enough as such things go. Before sending rovers to farther and/or vastly more hostile places, it makes sense to bone up on the tech on Mars, eh?

      But the reason the "scientific establishment" maintains interest in Mars is because, rather than being happy with unsubstantiated declaratory statements like the above, they actually want to know.

  • Hmm (Score:1, Interesting)

    by lightknight (213164)

    Even though it's Sci-Fi, I almost like to believe that human beings move from planet to planet, using up local resources and destroying them.

    The cycle would be constant, and self-fulfilling: We use technology to get off the old planet, and to settle onto a new one. Then a generation or so later, we blame the evils that destroyed the old planet on our technology, and swear it off so we can 'commune' with nature / our new home. This works for a few more generations until we realize that it wasn't technology t

    • Your theory ignores Evolution and the Fossil Record. However, if you were to say simpler forms of life (or even just matter) spreads from place to place and evolves on the planets, using up resources (and get rid of the predictions of what ultimately happens), then you have something very much like reality...
    • Then we we fight over how to 'save' our new home from ourselves, with half being against technology, and half being for it. Thus we are stuck in a disagreement, we try to do accomplish both angles at once.

      Kind of reminds me of Anno 2070 [steampowered.com].

    • So where are the ancient Martian cities? The radioactive craters? The garbage?

      If there was a civilization capable of destroying the ecosystem, I think you'd see it given the multiple, high resolution surveys we've done.

      • Re:Hmm (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Third Position (1725934) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @10:21PM (#41284497)

        Not necessarily. We have plenty of civilizations on Earth that have barely left a trace, and the oldest of those is only a few thousand years old. If there were civilizations several hundred thousands or millions of years old, chances are pretty good we could miss them, even in our own back yard, let alone on another planet.

        • by spauldo (118058)

          Any civilization that old would have left nothing to show its existance. Even the pyramids won't last that long.

          A biosphere, however, leaves its mark on a world. You'd be able to tell easily if Mars or Venus was habitable by humans duing the time homo sapiens has existed.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          That's nonsense. In desert areas we can see city streets outlining ruins in satellite images where the ground indications are pretty subtle. Human activities at the scale we would call "civilization" leave behind plenty of evidence. They need building materials, agriculture, irrigation, transportation, etc. All of those leave evidence, particularly in arid, unvegetated areas. If there were civilizations that old, they would have to be very well hidden (like on the bottom of the Antarctic or Greenland i

    • by khallow (566160)

      Even though it's Sci-Fi, I almost like to believe that human beings move from planet to planet, using up local resources and destroying them.

      While some repliers have noted the lack of realism, I find the psychological aspect interesting. Why do you want such a story? Wouldn't a story where humanity was a constructive influence on the universe be better even if a tad boring?

    • by rubycodez (864176)

      no, venus and mars will never become habitable, venus will not become cooler, nor mars wetter. most planetary bodies in the universe cannot support life. It is fine for humans to use the empty unihabitable things in any way they want, nothing of value will be lost.

  • What about this? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RichardtheSmith (157470) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @06:57PM (#41283461)
    I'm sorry, when they taught me Earth Science they mentioned that stratification was caused by sedimentary rock, laid down by the action of water over millions of years.

    How do you explain this without water?

    http://i.space.com/images/i/20995/wS4/mount-sharp-1600.jpg?1346122345 [space.com]

    • by cunniff (264218) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:07PM (#41283507) Homepage

      Well, it could be sedimentary rock layers. But volcanos can also cause layering - consult the oracle about "welded tuff" (example image from Idaho [idahoptv.org])

    • by wbr1 (2538558) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:07PM (#41283511)
      Those are scars left by martian strip mining and martian mountaintop coal removal crews.
    • by zrbyte (1666979)

      Yeah. And what's with all the dried up [wikipedia.org] riverbeds? [space.com]

    • Re:What about this? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex@nOs ... t-retrograde.com> on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:17PM (#41283559)

      Not that I disagree that water was the cause; However, all fluid is made of matter and can briefly suspend particles of other more dense matter thus providing the capability to form deposits and layering if said fluid is in motion. The Martian atmosphere is known to have Dust Storms -- I put it to you that these Dust Storms are such suspensions of matter having varied densities, and that the dust is, in fact, relocated. I believe that Mars was not always a solid rock because it shows evidence of volcanism -- Magma is also a fluid / matter suspension and is thus capable of forming layers of material. Unless we observe the actual layers and their material compositions we will not know how the layers formed.

    • A magical deity did it. He did it in 7 days. Took a break in the middle.

      It was an early beta, that's why he didn't let animals run around in it.

    • by nospam007 (722110) *

      "How do you explain this without water? "

      It used dehydrated water.

    • by Dabido (802599)
      When I did Geology at Uni in 1984 they explained sedimentary rock as just being formed due to it being deposited and building up over time. Water was only one way (the main way), but debris blown by the wind and being deposited was another, as well as glaciers, ice, and even earth movement (ie a landslide - volcanoes - earthquakes). The water being nec. probably sticks in your head because on earth about 99% of all sedimentary rocks formed that way and either 1. your teachers didn't include the other ways
  • by udachny (2454394) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:24PM (#41283589) Journal

    Mars has no magnetosphere, it's has 89% less mass, it is half of the Earth's diameter. Mars could never really sustain a breathable atmosphere with oxygen and nitrogen just because of those characteristics, those gases would simply fly off into space, there cannot be enough density and pressure on the surface of Mars to hold a breathable atmosphere.

    Of-course living organisms can survive in various other types of atmosphere, for example carbon dioxide, but even that gas cannot be held by Mars in enough density for anything to breath it.

    • by spaceplanesfan (2120596) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:22PM (#41283911)

      Titan [wikipedia.org] disagrees with you.

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by udachny (2454394)

        Mercury too has an atmosphere, but it's also not breathable.

        It's possible to have very heavy chemicals as an atmosphere on a smaller planet than ours, sure, at very different temperatures, very heavy compounds.

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by udachny (2454394)

        Oh, and by the way, Titan is inside the magnetosphere envelope of Saturn.

        So does it still disagree with me?

    • Sure, eventually those gases will escape into space. But that "eventually" is measured in tens of thousands of years. For purposes of terraforming, that's a reasonable life span for an atmosphere. And it leaves you plenty of time to figure out what to do for an encore.

    • by rossdee (243626)

      "Breatheable" is a relative term. even on this planet lifeforms occupy some pretty tough niches.

    • by Convector (897502)

      While there is no global magnetic field today, strong crustal magnetism [sciencemag.org] suggests that it must have had such a field in the past. Dynamo activity would have stopped once the core-mantle heat flow became unfavorable to core convection.

  • by slick7 (1703596)
    A couple of distilleries and half a dozen microbreweries should end that dry spell.
    • I know a couple of boys from Hazzard County that could solve it too.
      • by Sulphur (1548251)

        I know a couple of boys from Hazzard County that could solve it too.

        That's what happens when you have a dry planet. They probably cut a few channels on the way too.

  • Without water they wouldn't have gelsacs!

  • Tunnel vision (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Grayhand (2610049) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:43PM (#41284009)
    You can argue minerals all you want but it doesn't change the fact Mars has massive water features. Also they keep finding signs of sedimentary rock. Even some of the first rover pictures have shown it. Taking the evidence as a whole there shouldn't still be a debate about water on Mars. It's a waste of energy and resources. They should be focused on what happened to it? Was most of it lost to space or is it trapped deep in the soil?
    • Re:Tunnel vision (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AK Marc (707885) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @10:11PM (#41284447)
      There is no proof that the water features were caused by water. Mars bears geology that would require water on Earth. But that doesn't offer proof of water, just a strong hint. Continuing to look at it is likely being done with an eye on confirming it and figuring out what happened to it, if it was there. At this point, there is no proof of water. Just because your mind is closed doesn't prove the issue is.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "There is no proof that the water features were caused by water."

        Yes there is. There is no known other way to make complete delta systems with meandering channels and point bars, such as the ones found in Eberswalde Crater [wikipedia.org]. It isn't the only example, but it is the clearest indication that at some times there was standing water on the surface of Mars. The only other possible explanation would be for some other liquid to be responsible, but it is very difficult to come up with an alternative that would mak

        • by AK Marc (707885)
          Deduction, no matter how logical, is not proof. It is an inference or extrapolation, not proof.
  • Thanks a lot for raining on our parade.

  • ... for life on Mars came from the microorganisms that went along with the assorted probes and landers that we've sent there.
  • One of these days, when people finally get to Mars, they're going to wander over to one of those dried-up lake beds, dig with spades and find fossils by the thousand.

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