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Mars Space Science

Rover Finds Ancient Streambed On Martian Surface 180

Posted by samzenpus
from the low-flow-planet dept.
sighted writes "NASA reports that its Curiosity rover mission has found evidence that a stream once ran vigorously — and for a sustained amount of time — across the area on Mars where the rover is driving. There is, of course, earlier evidence for the presence of water on Mars, but NASA says this evidence, images of rocks containing ancient streambed gravels, is the first of its kind."
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Rover Finds Ancient Streambed On Martian Surface

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  • by TWX (665546) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @06:36PM (#41483347)
    There are other fluids than water that can sustain a semicolloidal solution or carry sediments. I assume that scientists now have to figure out what fluid flowed, rather than simply assuming that it had to be water.
    • by jslarve (1193417) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @06:39PM (#41483377)
      Probably never occurred to those rocket scientists and geologists at NASA. :)
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 27, 2012 @06:42PM (#41483405)

      What else would it be besides water? Liquid Hydrogen?

      Considering the place were Mars occupies in our Solar System, I don't see how it could be anything other than water.

      • by yincrash (854885) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @06:48PM (#41483433)
        Both mercury and bromine could be liquid at reasonable temperatures. Both are also just as unlikely to be in amounts to have streams.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 27, 2012 @07:03PM (#41483541)

          Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and Oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe. The only thing splitting them is Helium which is inert. All other things being equal the likelihood that a particular liquid at 'reasonable temperatures' is water is orders of magnitude more likely to be water than mercury or bromine.

        • by jrumney (197329)
          Mercury would explain why the martians arranged those rocks to use as stepping stones to get across the stream. You wouldn't exactly want to get your feet wet in a pure mercury stream.
          • by RockDoctor (15477)
            If mercury were so common in the environment that it literally ran in rivers over the surface, then it's highly likely that the organism's physiology would have developed so that it wasn't concerned by the presence of the mercury.

            Physiologically, is iron a problem for us? Non-elemental phosphorus? Most sulphur compounds (in an oxygenic environemnt, where they oxidise to sulphites / suplhates)?

      • Wouldn't make the liquid stones' shape oval, rounded, sand like gravel? These sharp edges, angled facets might be evidence of the very opposite.. but nice try NASA!
        • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @07:30PM (#41483717) Homepage

          You're doing it wrong.

          Try looking at the closeup image. You know, the one that shows the nice, rounded stones. Just like the ones you'd find in a stream bed.

          • by Tablizer (95088)

            No, those flat rounded stones are the ones the Titanians tossed to watch them skip off of Titan lakes [wikipedia.org] and on into space, toward Mars because of low gravity. Right diagnosis, wrong planet (or moon).

        • by SternisheFan (2529412) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @07:39PM (#41483783)
          Linked NASA photo's text:

          "Remnants of Ancient Streambed on Mars NASA's Curiosity rover found evidence for an ancient, flowing stream on Mars at a few sites, including the rock outcrop pictured here, which the science team has named "Hottah" after Hottah Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories. It may look like a broken sidewalk, but this geological feature on Mars is actually exposed bedrock made up of smaller fragments cemented together, or what geologists call a sedimentary conglomerate. Scientists theorize that the bedrock was disrupted in the past, giving it the titled angle, most likely via impacts from meteorites. The key evidence for the ancient stream comes from the size and rounded shape of the gravel in and around the bedrock. Hottah has pieces of gravel embedded in it, called clasts, up to a couple inches (few centimeters) in size and located within a matrix of sand-sized material. Some of the clasts are round in shape, leading the science team to conclude they were transported by a vigorous flow of water. The grains are too large to have been moved by wind. A close-up view of Hottah reveals more details of the outcrop. Broken surfaces of the outcrop have rounded, gravel clasts, such as the one circled in white, which is about 1.2 inches (3 centimeters) across. Erosion of the outcrop results in gravel clasts that protrude from the outcrop and ultimately fall onto the ground, creating the gravel pile at left. This image mosaic was taken by Curiosity's 100-millimeter Mastcam telephoto lens on its 39th Martian day, or sol, ..."

      • by khallow (566160)
        Carbon dioxide. Fluids [thefreedictionary.com] don't have to be liquids.

        A continuous, amorphous substance whose molecules move freely past one another and that has the tendency to assume the shape of its container; a liquid or gas.

        If the stream bed is a billion years old and has carbon dioxide repeatedly flood it, it may well have well-worked stones like what are seen. Yes, I do think that the idea is something of a stretch, but it needs to be ruled out.

        • by RockDoctor (15477)
          At the temperatures and pressures of the Martian surface (now, and at all times in all credible histories I've heard of) carbon dioxide is a gas not a liquid. You need 5+ atmospheres (half an MPa) to make liquid stable.

          Does that rule CO2 out as a possible fluid for you?

    • by rubycodez (864176) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @06:46PM (#41483425)

      it wasn't a liquid form of the atmosphere, carbon dioxide goes to solid. wasn't the 3% nitrogen, too warm. certainly not the argon, also too warm. maybe the NASA boffins know a bit more than you?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jhoegl (638955)
      Yes, but since humans havent been on Mars (that we know of), toxic sludge isnt one of them.
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      There are other fluids than water that can sustain a semicolloidal solution or carry sediments. I assume that scientists now have to figure out what fluid flowed, rather than simply assuming that it had to be water.

      Zap it with a laser and conduct at spectrum analysis on it and see what elements pop up.

      • by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @07:23PM (#41483671)

        There are other fluids than water that can sustain a semicolloidal solution or carry sediments. I assume that scientists now have to figure out what fluid flowed, rather than simply assuming that it had to be water.

        Zap it with a laser and conduct at spectrum analysis on it and see what elements pop up.

        Without proclaiming any expertise, I'd say that the erosion and eddy patterns left behind would be informative, since they would be indicative of the viscosity of the liquid. The pattern of sediment would drop hints towards its density. Water, CO2 and other highly-vaporous substances would not leave much, if any discernible residue or precipitate compared many other fluids. Some fluids would react with certain payload elements, other with different payload elements (in the structural meaning of the term "element", not the chemical one).

        There's a lot you can learn just ogling the pictures.

        THEN zap it with a laser!

        • by ackthpt (218170)

          There are other fluids than water that can sustain a semicolloidal solution or carry sediments. I assume that scientists now have to figure out what fluid flowed, rather than simply assuming that it had to be water.

          Zap it with a laser and conduct at spectrum analysis on it and see what elements pop up.

          Without proclaiming any expertise, I'd say that the erosion and eddy patterns left behind would be informative, since they would be indicative of the viscosity of the liquid. The pattern of sediment would drop hints towards its density. Water, CO2 and other highly-vaporous substances would not leave much, if any discernible residue or precipitate compared many other fluids. Some fluids would react with certain payload elements, other with different payload elements (in the structural meaning of the term "element", not the chemical one).

          There's a lot you can learn just ogling the pictures.

          THEN zap it with a laser!

          Routinely you will find H20 bonded in some sediments where water has passed for a length of time, sans life, there will be less (to none) of the familiar compounds of Earth. It likely was water, but when and how much is certainly an interest, though it likely boiled off into space, thanks to Mars' weak gravity.

        • by l810c (551591) *

          THEN zap it with a laser!

          They didn't, they moved right along. This is one of the more interesting things I took from the NASA site.

          "A long-flowing stream can be a habitable environment," said Grotzinger. "It is not our top choice as an environment for preservation of organics, though. We're still going to Mount Sharp, but this is insurance that we have already found our first potentially habitable environment."

          There seems to be many steam beds in an alluvial plain. It's pretty clear that a liquid water river system once flowed there. You would think a river/stream system would be the ultimate place to start searching for life. But they seem to have a better target.

          • by Chris Burke (6130)

            They didn't, they moved right along.

            Well, a couple things to realize:

            1) They certainly did get a ChemCam measurement of at least a couple of the sedimentary outcrops -- definitely the Goulburn Scour at the landing site, and probably the Link outcrop. In the Raw Image [nasa.gov] archive it shows shots from the Cam part of ChemCam around the time they would have been departing Link, and those are used for context of what ChemCam is shooting. They've been shooting quite a bit of things with the laser, since it's "cheap".

            2) ChemCam isn't designed to find

          • by Chris Burke (6130)

            Oh, and a couple relevant things I learned watching the news conference [ustream.tv]:

            John Grotzinger sounded a lot more open to the possibility of there being preserved organics in these rocks than in that quote, but noted that the presence of water over long periods could have also oxidized the organics into CO2.

            In response to Emily Lakdawalla's question specifically about whether they regretted driving on from this site without using other instruments, John said that having found several such outcrops so far makes the

    • by dreamchaser (49529) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @07:10PM (#41483595) Homepage Journal

      There are other fluids than water that can sustain a semicolloidal solution or carry sediments. I assume that scientists now have to figure out what fluid flowed, rather than simply assuming that it had to be water.

      I take it you've never heard of Occam's Razor. Given the composition of Mars and other evidence gathered to date water is by FAR the most likely substance to have caused this.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by yotto (590067)

        I take it you've never heard of Occam's Razor. Given the composition of Mars and other evidence gathered to date water is by FAR the most likely substance to have caused this.

        I bet it was Florida Orange Juice. Prove me wrong!

      • If it was water than there should be evidence of life even if it is only bacterial life. Even if they only discover bacterial life than some of these religious nut will have some explaining to do. We have been looking for life outside of earth for a long time now without success. I think if they do not discover some signs of either living life or past life than the whole mission will be a failure. It is just like looking for water on your property, one does not care how fancy or technological the equipm
        • by dreamchaser (49529) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @07:54PM (#41483883) Homepage Journal

          First, water is required for life as we know it, but the presence of water is no guarantee for life. Second, this is not a mission to determine if there are traces of life or not. Curiosity is mostly a geological mission, with an emphasis of finding out if there were ever conditions suitable to sustain life as we know it That's not anywhere near the same thing as finding proof there ever was or even if there still is life on Mars.

        • If it was water than there should be evidence of life even if it is only bacterial life. Even if they only discover bacterial life than some of these religious nut will have some explaining to do.

          They're well practiced in explaining this kind of thing away. There's plenty enough evidence on Earth to question, if not completely contradict, some of their claims.

        • by RockDoctor (15477)

          If it was water than there should be evidence of life even if it is only bacterial life.

          By that measure, the gas clouds surrounding Eta Carinae should also contain life, despite being a hard vacuum (with water vapour) and UV radiation that would sterilize your skin (no easy task) before evaporating it.

          We hypothesise that water is essential for life. That does not mean that where there is water, there must be life.

          Even if they only discover bacterial life than some of these religious nut will have some exp

      • I take it you've never heard of Occam's Razor.

        I've never heard of Occam's Razor. What is it? I'm imagining some kind of 7 legged, supersonic, invisible shoe.

    • by treeves (963993)

      Yeah, maybe hydrazine or Dowtherm A or tetrahydrofuran or propylene glycol methyl ether acetate.

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @07:00PM (#41483531) Homepage Journal

    Rover could have been washed away.

    Launch, fly 54.6 million kilometers, land, drown. No profit in that.

    • Launch, fly 54.6 million kilometers, land, drown. No profit in that.

      Conclusive proof of the existence of large amounts of liquid water on Mars would be absolutely worth the expense.

  • Look closely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kurt555gs (309278) <kurt555gsNO@SPAMovi.com> on Thursday September 27, 2012 @07:29PM (#41483707) Homepage

    I see Thoat tracks.

    • by gslj (214011)

      I see Thoat tracks.

      Willis tracks.

    • You have to search through all the photographs, they try to hide them in the flood of images, but one some pictures I can clearly see the tracks of a wheeled vehicle. PROOF there are aliens!

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Of course there are aliens on Mars. Three of them, although one has died. And all three have wheels. Plus, there are a couple of aliens in orbit around Mars.

        • by RockDoctor (15477)
          [Counts] Seven, at least, though not all have wheels, and the majority are immobile and unresponsive, (and possibly fragmentary)
    • by RockDoctor (15477)

      I see Thoat tracks. -- * Carthago Delenda Est *

      Speaking as a Martian, what have you got against Carthage?

  • by elistan (578864) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @08:32PM (#41484113)
    Nice job, submitting and subsequently accepting, an article with a link to the NASA article instead of some random blog linking to a multipage ad-heavy website that only vaguely discusses the NASA article. More of this, please.
  • by jomama717 (779243) <jomama717@gmail.com> on Thursday September 27, 2012 @11:42PM (#41484943) Journal
    How naive am I to get excited at the thought we might happen upon a fossil?
    • by rs79 (71822)

      Very.

      • Well, if they find some seashells that pretty much answers that question. Anything conical or based on the golden ratio would mean that life is highly likely to be ubiquitous on planets that are wet with water and have a proper climate. Again, that's a big fat IF.

        I still have high hopes that something fossilized might be found (bacteria would still be fantastic). My gut feeling is that planet is too big to be completely sterile throughout its existence.

        • by Alioth (221270)

          If they find anything, it's likely to be unicellular. Multicellular life on Earth took billions of years to appear, and we think surface water on Mars disappeared an awful long time ago - probably not giving time for anything more complex than bacteria to appear.

          • by RockDoctor (15477)
            Depressingly true.

            I think I'll fire up my Cobra and make another attempt a finding a Thargoid fleet. (An Oolite reference for those benighted souls who don't know the game.)

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      How naive am I to get excited at the thought we might happen upon a fossil?

      Not quite as naive as getting excited at the thought that we might find some live red-skinned Princesses of Mars or green six-limbed Warriors of Mars, but not far off.

    • by RockDoctor (15477)
      Not very naive to get excited at the thought. I'm excited at the thought too!

      But I reluctantly have to say that the probability of seeing one is not high.

  • This is a perfect example why doing science is morally wrong.
  • Doesn't "round" stones predicting water, just mean they thing it round becase it was caused by erosion caused by water?

    What is to stop other kinds of erosion from also making round stones? Would not wind erosion given enough time perhaps do the same thing? Do they not have terrible dust storms on Mars? How are they measuing how long it took to create the erosion?

    Anyway it seems a bit of a leap to me.

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