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Mars NASA Science

NASA Announces Discovery of Salty Water On Mars ... Maybe 204

Today's promised mystery announcement from NASA has finally been made: dotancohen writes "A NASA orbiter has found possible evidence for water on the surface of Mars that flows seasonally. The water likely would be salty, in keeping with the salty Martian environment." Adds an anonymous reader: "Dark, finger-like features appear and extend down some Martian slopes during late spring through summer, fade in winter, and return during the next spring, NASA says, and repeated observations have tracked the seasonal changes in these recurring features on several steep slopes in the middle latitudes of Mars' southern hemisphere." You can find more on the claimed find at NASA TV.
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NASA Announces Discovery of Salty Water On Mars ... Maybe

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  • While Mars Fissures gently weep?


  • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:50PM (#36989858) Journal

    What the website has [nasa.gov] is a single sequence. I don't see any cyclic activity. It's also oddly widespread, almost stringy, as though the flow is considerable and the scale of the picture is much bigger than it appears (not unlikely, and given they added no scale information it's almost useless as science).

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:53PM (#36989910)

      How about a video?


    • The blurb associated with the sequence says the dark lines which grow and then fade are between 0.5 and 5 yards wide. So I guess the ridge running bottom left to top right is about 200-400 yards long (extremely rough guess)
  • Still need to research and read all the articles, but would be cool to correlate the temperature and melt events.

  • As I asked in the earlier post: http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2357996&cid=36953978

    Does anyone remember if Drake assumed one or two habitable planets per planetary system (like ours)?

    I have to think the signs point toward more, not less, life in the universe.

    • by ThorGod ( 456163 )

      err, I posted the wrong link above: http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2364470&cid=36989158


    • Re:Drake Equation (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @04:01PM (#36990014)
      Well, Drake didn't assume much. The Drake equation is ultimately not about calculating the amount of life in the universe, but - at least at the current stage of knowledge - about providing a framework for collecting and thinking about what parameters might influence the amount of life in the universe.
      • by ThorGod ( 456163 )

        The Drake equation is ultimately [...] about providing a framework for collecting and thinking about what parameters might influence the amount of life in the universe.

        Yes, and discovering the liquid state of water in an otherwise extreme environment (such as the surface of Mars) increases our expectations.

        • Absolutely. All I wanted to say was that there are so many undefined parameters in the equation that it is hopeless to get out a meaningful result - but, as I said, that is not what it is meant for at all. Still nice to see that one of those parameters appears to be broader than previously thought.
    • Drake [wikipedia.org] and his colleagues assumed two planets per star developing life.
  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:56PM (#36989930) Homepage

    This is important for two reasons. The first reason this is important is the obvious issue that the presence of liquid water makes the existence of life a lot more likely. It seems that conditions for life are really surprisingly common. What we still don't know is how likely life is to form in the first place and how easily it travels. There is speculation about panspermia and life on Earth having come from Mars on meteorites but the orbital mechanics make that direction a lot more likely than from Earth to the Mars.

    The second reason this is important is that in the long-run colonization and exploration of Mars will be a lot easier if water is easily available. The presence of water will be directly helpful for some plans aside from directly helping humans. For example, the Mars Direct plan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Direct [wikipedia.org] involves exploratory missions to Mars where some of the rocket fuel for the return is methane made on the surface. Current versions of that plan call for bringing the necessary hydrogen to Mars. This isn't too bad since hydrogen is only a small fraction of methane by mass. But if we could split the water using electrolysis and get the hydrogen directly from that that would potentially further reduce the amount of mass needed to be launched from Earth. Unfortunately, the water here seems to be not so common that one could actually rely on this. This is probably non-viable unless one had much better maps of where the water was, how deep it normally was, the exact locations of the water, detailed knowledge of what salts were making the water briny and any other major chemical contaminants which could make electrolysis machinery unhappy. So overall, this is unlikely to impact missions to Mars in that direct a way.

  • by agwis ( 690872 ) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @04:07PM (#36990082)
    Can't wait for the next round of conspiracy theories! Salty tears from the face on Mars perhaps? Mr. Hoagland?!
  • How are they going to get at this water if it's even possible? Drill down? Burrow down? Sample soil from outside these spurts?

  • Changing dark streaks. Cool. Something is going on down there that fundamentally changes our perception of Mars as a planet that's frozen in time. (Well, except for the dust storms and the seasonal variations in the polar caps.)

    The thing is, this doesn't say 'water' to me because it could very well be some other physical phenomena which isn't all that different from Lowell's canals or the face on Mars. They really should do proper science and wait for something more concrete, such as spectroscopic data,

    • They seem to be hedging their bets, but to my mind, their explanation of a briny mud is probably most likely. The temperatures near the equator should be high enough in the Martian summer to make this work. It's a tentative discovery that will have to wait until we send more probes. At least this gives those designing future missions a better kind of candidate location for looking for flowing water, and maybe even life. Landing a rover near one of these flows, if it can be done, might prove very fruitfu

    • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @04:25PM (#36990288) Homepage

      They really should do proper science and wait for something more concrete, such as spectroscopic data, before making such announcements.

      What exactly do you think they did? Re read Kim Stanley Robinson? Yes, their is spectroscopic data that supports the ideas, yes they need to do more it.

      Proper science isn't waiting until you know everything. That never happens anyway.

      • We know there are significant amounts of water ice on Mars, in some places pretty close to the surface. In a way, it only stands to reason that in the warmer areas near the equator that frozen water with a lot of salts and other minerals in suspension would melt, and if it stays liquid for any length of time, it will form mud and flow downhill. This isn't a "wow, never saw that coming" kind of a discovery, it's a more a confirmation of some of the theoretical work that's been going on over the last five o

      • What exactly do you think they did? Re read Kim Stanley Robinson?

        Well said.

          I love how half of the Slashdot comments imply that the commenter must know more about Mars and Geophysics than NASA.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      "The thing is, this doesn't say 'water' to me because I'm not a specialist on the mission'

      There; I fixed it for you.

  • Ob. XKCD (Score:4, Funny)

    by DarthVain ( 724186 ) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @04:16PM (#36990172)

    Real Science!

    http://xkcd.com/683/ [xkcd.com]

    • I especially like the frame where the dude removes his required uncomfortable safety goggles for a bit because no one will notice.
  • Observations make it look like there might be some sort of water cycle going on on Mars. Now the question is can existing probes provide further evidence? If not is new probe required? If there was a human presence on Mars they could mount an expedition to investigate.

    It's hard to put humans into space but, humans are so much more adaptable to changing mission parameters.

    • doesn't help when the humans are *there* and the stuff of interest is thousands of kilometers away. cheap proles, reprogrammable remotely, are the way to go for now.
  • Contrary to what some have speculated, this is not just science by press conference. There is an actual paper [sciencemag.org] out today in Science magazine (subscription only, but a summary is here [sciencemag.org]). It is speculative, but not of the "arsenic life" or "bacteria in a Mars meteorite" variety.

"Being against torture ought to be sort of a bipartisan thing." -- Karl Lehenbauer