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Mars Space Science

Blue, Not Red: Did Ancient Mars Look Like This? 75

Posted by samzenpus
from the possible-past dept.
astroengine writes "Using elevation data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, software engineer Kevin Gill was inspired to create a virtual version of the red planet with a difference. 'I had been doing similar models of Earth and have seen attempts by others of showing life on Mars, so I figured I'd give it a go,' Gill told Discovery News. 'It was a good way to learn about the planet, be creative and improve the software I was rendering it in.' He included oceans, lakes, clouds and a biosphere — a view of a hypothetical ancient Mars that looks wonderfully like home."
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Blue, Not Red: Did Ancient Mars Look Like This?

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  • by Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) on Friday January 04, 2013 @04:20AM (#42473213)

    So the typical Martian was one ugly motherfucker, then? "Ain't got time to bleed!"

    Props for realizing that a Mars covered with water would be blue, too. Such insight!

    • Yeah, I know. I thought the mountains sticking up out of the atmosphere was very cool, though.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think I see the Shire down there

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 04, 2013 @04:39AM (#42473289)

    It is an interesting exercise.
    But I notice the renderings show a lot of nicely circular lakes, suggesting meteor impact craters. If Mars at any time had this amount of water and a thicker atmosphere there would likely be less craters and those that did remain would probably have different shapes due to erosion. It would suggest the meteorite impacts happened after the water evaporated and the atmosphere thinned.

    • . If Mars at any time had this amount of water and a thicker atmosphere there would likely be less craters

      No, craters of the size in the images would be caused by bodies big enough that they wouldn't even notice an atmosphere.

      those that did remain would probably have different shapes due to erosion

      No, not really. You can't erode something circular into something that's not circular - that's why we can find impact craters on Earth that are millions of years old.

  • by muecksteiner (102093) on Friday January 04, 2013 @04:39AM (#42473291)

    Call me cynical, but this is pretty much a case of "Look, ma! We got some fancy 3D graphics now!". But it's not particularly interesting or novel from a technical viewpoint - even bad Hollywood movies have more professional graphics than this.

    I mean, all he did was slap some Blue Marble textures onto a Martian height field globe. Wo-hoo, score one for physical simulation, and all that. As someone else has said, score one for the realisation that the planet would have been blue, if there had been large amounts of surface water. Wo-hoo! :-)

    Now if he had done some actual simulation on where large bodies of surface water have likely existed: seas are sort of obvious, but what about rivers and lakes - these are extremely important for life, due to being sources of fresh water, as opposed to the inevitable salt water in the oceans. That, coupled with a simulation how life could have spread. Parameterised by how advanced the lifeforms are - move a slider from "basically just slime in the ocean" to "higher plants", and watch the green spread into those regions that could sustain it... that would be news. But this? They cover texture mapping and in-painting in computer graphics 101 these days.

    That having said, the images *are* pretty, so it's not all bad. :-) Just not that much of news for nerds.

    • Re:Um... (Score:4, Informative)

      by LourensV (856614) on Friday January 04, 2013 @06:00AM (#42473577)

      In Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, the northern ocean is filled with fresh water from the molten polar ice cap, while the rivers take up salt from the rocks they flow over, so there are salty rivers flowing into a fresh water ocean. I'm not sure how realistic that is, but it doesn't seem completely illogical.

      As artist impressions go, I prefer this one [wikimedia.org], by Daein Ballard over the one in the article.

    • by bogjobber (880402)

      seas are sort of obvious, but what about rivers and lakes - these are extremely important for life, due to being sources of fresh water, as opposed to the inevitable salt water in the oceans.

      Fresh water is important for terrestrial life. It's not exactly like the oceans on Earth are barren and lifeless.

  • by 3LP (552899)
    What, no pink unicorns?
  • by Viol8 (599362) on Friday January 04, 2013 @04:49AM (#42473345)

    People seem to forget that after its formation the sun was somewhat LESS bright than it is now so Mars would have been even colder in its current orbit. If there ever was large amounts of water on Mars I suspect that it would have spent most of its time locked up as ice sheets with the occasional melting due to impacts. Pretty much the way it is today.

    All this warm wet life on mars stuff strikes me as nothing more than wish fulfillment - the same way people used to imagine Venus was a tropical paradise. Until the probes went there and proved those predictions to be some of the worst ever made in astronomical science.

    • by esldude (1157749)
      Yes, I agree. James Lovelock pretty much told NASA why there was no life there back in the 1960's. No need to look for it as it isn't there. Sound, simple principles behind him saying that. Funny, how this fictional idea that there was life on Mars, along with some wishful thinking (I am looking at you Percival Lowell) can get lodged in the minds of so many people. And lead to billions spent on that faulty idea.

      Hey, I am all for space exploration, and bothering to go has lead to some good knowled
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Perhaps you can elaborate here. We know that various forms of life exist in pretty extreme conditions. We know that Mars once had a thicker atmosphere. It appears that Mars once had flowing water. Evidence suggests it had large oceans. What did this guy know that we don't?
      • Yes, I agree. James Lovelock pretty much told NASA why there was no life there back in the 1960's. No need to look for it as it isn't there. Sound, simple principles behind him saying that. Funny, how this fictional idea that there was life on Mars, along with some wishful thinking (I am looking at you Percival Lowell) can get lodged in the minds of so many people. And lead to billions spent on that faulty idea.

        That's like claiming we should still believe the scientists mentioned by the grandparent who pred

    • by asmkm22 (1902712)

      I'm no planetary scientist, but I'd imagine this would depend greatly on the atmospheric composition at the time. If it was thick enough, liquid water should have been possible, especially with methane added to the mix.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      When Mars still had its atmosphere, it was mostly CO2, so the greenhouse effect could keep it warm enough for liquid water.

    • People seem to forget that after its formation the sun was somewhat LESS bright than it is now so Mars would have been even colder in its current orbit.

      And some forget that after Mars' own formation it was damn hot (molten, even, for a while) just from the energy of its own formation, just like every other planet. Although only a trace is left today, this would have lasted for some time. So it is incorrect to assume that "less bright sun" equals "colder planet" unless all other things were equal, which they were not.

    • Actually Mars might have been warmer, THEN colder. The planets maintained much internal heat left over from creation for millions of years. Mars once had an active core like the Earth still does (the now dead volcanoes on Mars are proof of this). With an active core Mars also once had a magnetic field that protected it's early thicker atmosphere. Mars might once had been a lot warmer and wetter, perhaps long enough for life to evolve there. In fact the early Earth might have been TOO HOT due to still

    • People seem to forget that after its formation the sun was somewhat LESS bright than it is now so Mars would have been even colder in its current orbit. If there ever was large amounts of water on Mars I suspect that it would have spent most of its time locked up as ice sheets with the occasional melting due to impacts. Pretty much the way it is today.

      Insolation is only one part of the equation. While the sun may have been less bright, the Martian atmosphere would have been much, much thicker - more than o

      • by Viol8 (599362)

        "and that there were once considerable quantities of free flowing water for a long period."

        No , there nothings showing it was there for a long period. All the signs of water could have been made by flash floods and lakes that lasted for a few decades at most.

        "were working with the best information they had. (Unlike you.)"

        Ooo, get you. Careful with that handbag!

    • ... now so Mars would have been even colder in its current orbit.
      Global warming should tell you that much of a planets temperature is a matter of its atmosphere.
      So with a CO2 rich atmosphere nothing speaks against an ancient Mars with free floating water, forests and other life.
      Keep in mind: mid day summer temperatures or at the equator on Mars are above zero regularly.

    • Thanks for saying so. I was about to add that the damn rock is just too darn cold--not to mention out or reach until we can figure how to create a bigger and more stable electromagnetic field than the one surrounding earth: given size and strength of the dynamo theorized to be inside the earth necessary to generate the one whose benefits we so enjoy, that's a long way off: likely impossible.

      Even then, still too cold: I bet chances are better for terraforming the moon.
  • by egcagrac0 (1410377) on Friday January 04, 2013 @04:57AM (#42473371)
    Is it just me, or is that planet getting closer?
  • Many years ago the software Campaign Cartographer showed us this picture, of course with old mapping data but it was close.

  • Also the moon (Score:5, Interesting)

    by david.given (6740) <dg@NOsPaM.cowlark.com> on Friday January 04, 2013 @06:34AM (#42473681) Homepage Journal

    I've been (very slowly) doing something a bit similar with the moon --- see here [google.com] --- although differently; I've been trying to render everything and producing ground-level views rather than producing a painted sphere like TFA. (His looks better from a distance. Mine looks better close up.) I've been trying to use procedural texturing and atmospheric effects. The pictures above are rather out of date; rendering your own from SVN will look better.

    Unfortunately rendering things the size of planets from very close up runs into big problems with floating point precision. The only renderer I've found which will do it at all is Povray, and even then there are loads of bugs --- volumetric effects for things like clouds is well buggered at this sort of scale. See this picture [twitpic.com] for an example. Plus Povray's is really slow at procedural surfaces.

    Right now I really need to start again from scratch using higher-resolution terrain and gravity data from some of the recent lunar probes, and I also probably want to switch to a different renderer which works at higher precision. Any suggestions of a fast raytracer that does procedural isosurfaces, volumetric effects and works at double precision will be gratefully appreciated...

    I will also share this test render [twitpic.com] with you, which I think is delightfully surreal...

    • You need to look at Terragen. I'm 100% sure it can do everything you want, but it can render out worlds anywhere between full globes, to inch scale close ups, with a lot of the effects you are looking for, and, if you learn to run it right, you can load in lots of external data light heightmaps and whatnot.
  • I could do the same as this in SimEarth 20 years ago...

    It had a pretty accurate height map of the planet it seemed and showed what it would look like terraformed. Maybe not in as super cool graphics but still.

    So why does this guy get a Slashdot mention for something I could do at 8?
  • by eggstasy (458692)

    It couldn't possibly look that way. Mount Olympus would be smaller or non existent, craters wouldn't have reshaped the terrain as much, and on top of that, it is thought that Mars might have briefly had some plate tectonics. It depends on the time period they want to depict, of course.

  • by mschuyler (197441) on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:20PM (#42477885) Homepage Journal

    Show the nerds a beautiful picture and they'll totally miss the point and dissect it to death. Good thing this is not a beautiful naked woman. They'd be complaining that the angle of the elbow isn't quite right and prove it with a mathematical formula.

  • While a lot of people seem to be negative on this project, I think it's pretty damn cool and gives us an idea of what could be. We would need to terraform certainly, and quite possibly restart the core, but why not wonder?

    Who knows? Our grandkids could be vacationing on Arsia Mons.

God may be subtle, but he isn't plain mean. -- Albert Einstein

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