Martian Miscellanies

ruffready

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Strange..

last night me and Rowdy were just getting ready to dig into a late 8 pm dinner (Steak 'N shake, ever heard of it? its a pure joy of a hamburger eat there or takehomeasack) and my doorbell rang..ding dong..I looked at Rowdy and said."now who the hell can that be!! (also thinking, "glad I said, hold the onions old boy!) but, as I peeked out the front door min-blinds..there was no woman to come calling..but a strange looking man standing there with a long "black" flashlight!! hmmmm.. well being not the meek looking sort of dude (I'm a cross between snake plissken & Jeff Bridges) I beefed my self up..looked around at Rowdy (who had left to god nos where) and pulled open the door..YES? ..I said . Howdy! the man said, "Charlie sent me over to fertilize your lawn....Huh? I said, (just then thinking Jezzzsus!! NSA found out I found a fish on Mars!! ) but then reflecting a bit , I remembered my Lawn man Charlie told me a couple of weeks before that he would be fertilizing my lawn, soon. It had been rainning a bit off and on all day and more expected over the next couple of days..he had mentioned the lawn would need lots of water after ..so , he jumped on it with one of his crew, (never did this at night before) so anyway my food was a bit cold. but fine nither the less.
 
A

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comments on some apparently unseen pictures of the "cra

To all:

With respect to what is coming to be called the "crab claw", in some circles, and, evidently, derogatorily, as "the bunny ears", in others, the web page, http://www.space.com/scienceandastronomy/mars_bunny_040310.html, the article, "Mars Opportunity: Hopping Along the 'Bunny' Trail", you see some of the comments apparently ubiquitous in the "traditional science" community, suggesting that interpreting the branched object shown in Opportunity's photos as anything other than detritus from the spacecraft is silly at best and psychotic at worst.

Very significant on the page, though, are two illustrations they offer of the object. Actually, three photographs are displayed, with links to pages that show the pictures in larger size, but two are of special interest. One of the pictures is the traditional one, taken from the lander, the first picture of the object, and, for the most part, the only picture of the object widely current, so far.

The other two pictures can be immensely important, however.

One is a black and white, evidently all but previously unseen, showing a splotch that is claimed to be the object, but, now, underneath one of the fold out panels of the lander. For all that the perspective is claimed to be unusual for Mars, being smaller than earth, it still seems too far away, in the original picture, to get covered by the lander's flaps. A point that may be being pushed is that the object was light, and was pushed by the wind, suggesting that it's just some foam from the lander.

The second offering on the web page seems pointed in the same direction. This is an animated gif, composed of three pictures of the object, taken "two minutes apart". In the sequence, the right branch of the object is depicted as moving to the left. It moves only a small distance, but the pictures do indicate its position to be different! The "explanation" given again insists that the object has to be some foam, and uses as "proof" the fact that, as the page with the larger picture claims, "the object can move in a light wind".

For all the overweaning gloating that "traditional science" engages in, proclaiming its reliance on "scrupulous reasoning", in fact, they are shockingly slipshod, and evidently geared only to "justify" their desired assertions. The first problem is the statement that the object must be light, because it is moving in a light wind. Yet there is no indication of a wind being present, at that time! Sand particles don't seem to be moving, and there seem no signs of the material on the flaps errantly moving to block the camera, after they were unfurled. Also, as transfixed as so many have been about the purported conditions transmitted from the lander, they would love to have been told if there was a wind! And NASA would have been more than happy to comply! It seems clear, then, that there was no wind to make the object move! They are asserting the unquestionability of their conclusion first, then deriving "facts" from that! They are saying that the object is foam from the lander, and that that is light, and that that must be what it is, without question! They then derive the assertion that there must have been a light wind, since the "foam" - don't even think of questioning that, because you have been ordered to think that's what it is! - is moving! They then, surreptitiously, turn it around, saying that it must be foam, because it is moving in the light wind that must be blowing there, because that would mean that it must be moving because it's light, which would mean that it must be foam!

Even more significant, though, is the nature of the pictures themselves. In the three photos, the right branch of the object moves steadily and unswervingly to the left! Those who want to fight the use of reasoning here would insist that that is proof of a wind, since the wind would constantly be moving in the one direction, right to left in the scene. But, even in a low pressure environment, with only a light wind, a piece of foam would not take two minutes to bend, maybe, 2 millimeters, then another two minutes to bend another 2 millimeters! The natural springiness of the material would cause it to sway back and forth, especially in a thin atmosphere, and light wind! A force so minimal that it would take four minutes to impel the foam branch, say, 4 millimeters would not have enough strength to keep it from oscillating back and forth! In which case, one of the pictures would have had to show it rocking the other way! It is entirely unlikely to think that the photographs were taken at the precise moments to coincide with the branch accidentally oscillating, first, 2 millimeters to the left, then 4 millimeters to the left!

But, if the object were a creature, moving its branch sluggishly to the left at a constant velocity, then the camera would have caught it in those positions, at those moments!

The reliance on the evidently conclusion-oriented pseudo-logical manipulation of facts that seems to hold sway in "traditional science", these days, seems without question. But you can't let the fact that they just stand there insisting that they know more than you do, so your only choice is to just shut up and believe what they tell you to believe, lead you to sign away your spirit!



Julian Penrod
 

Mike_Pratt33

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The fossil, if thats what its is, is discussed on Hoagland's website. He claims that when NASA noticed it they immediatly used the grinder to destroy it. (But still released the photo, why is NASA so increadibly inept at covering up stuff ?)

dannycheveaux: If you are going to post links to giant size jpg images can you please give some warning. That download nearly crippled my computer. Nice pic when I got it.
 

sunspot8

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Opportunity Spots Curious Object On Mars

http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/ma ... 50113.html

NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover has come across an interesting object -- perhaps a meteorite sitting out in the open at Meridiani Planum. Initial data taken by the robot’s Mini-Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES) is suggestive that the odd-looking “rock” is made of metal.
 

headnspace

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preliminary results = "metal"

"metal" tells us very little. Iron? Copper?

So, my first impression is that it's a part of the lander that broke off and fell nearby.

My next impression is that it's a Meteor fragment that fell nearby.

My next impression is that "It's just a metallicy rock" of martian origin that happens to be nearby.

My last impression is that it's a piece of Mars that broke off when the lander landed, and fell nearby.

Tough being in astronomy. . . always "more research needed." ;)
 

sunspot8

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They have just driven the rover up to the rock to deploy the robotic arm, this should tell us exactly what it is made of. It definately is not part of the lander, you can see its been sitting on the surface for probably thousands of years, the wind has slowly sculpted dunes around it.

The latest pics from the rover have just been transmitted and they've positioned the rover to examine the object in the next few days:

http://qt.exploratorium.edu/mars/opport ... 14R0M1.JPG
 

Rubyait

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Martian volcanoes 'may be active'

Fields of volcanic cones discovered at the North Pole of Mars suggest the Red Planet could still be geologically active, scientists have said.

The cones, seen in images from Europe's Mars Express probe, have no blemishes from impact craters.

This suggests the volcanoes erupted very recently and that the sites could have ongoing volcanism.

Mars Express scientist Gerhard Neukum presented the results at a conference in Cambridge.

"Mars is a planet that was very recently active - maybe one, or two, or three million years ago. And in some areas, I have the impression it is really ongoing," said Dr Neukum, of the Free University in Berlin, Germany.

Future eruptions

But what cannot be determined is when, if at all, some of these volcanoes might erupt again: "It could be a million years from now, it could be tomorrow," he added.

Dr Neukum acts as the principal investigator for the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on Mars Express, which took the images in which the cones were discovered.

There may be 50-100 of the volcanic cones covering a flank of the North Pole about one million square kilometres in area. They are between 300m (980ft) and 600m (1,970ft) tall, said Dr Neukum.

In addition to the North Pole, other regions with recent - and possibly ongoing - activity on Mars include parts of Tharsis - home to the volcano Olympus Mons - parts of Elysium and the so-called highland-lowland boundary.

By counting the number of craters on the surfaces of Solar System objects, scientists can estimate the age of those surfaces.

If they are heavily cratered, they are deemed older, while smoother surfaces are considered younger. This assumes a constant cratering rate since the heavy bombardment that terrestrial planets underwent about four billion years ago.

Fresh cones

The cones appear to be fresh with no discernible evidence of cratering. Dr Neukum admitted it was possible the cones could be ancient features that have been eroded by wind, but added that this was unlikely.

"I don't see any wind-related features in the region. We should see it and we should see the remains of craters somewhere. But we don't," he told the BBC News website.

Volcanic activity appeared to have peaked on Mars at around 1.5 billion years ago, Dr Neukum said, adding: "Mars is still active within certain limits; it's still not dead."

Dr Neukum thinks that volcanic activity strongly influences glacial activity on Mars. This is because on the Red Planet, eruptions also mobilise water.

In some cases, this water freezes and forms glaciers, says Dr Neukum. But other scientists believe glacial activity on the planet is more strongly influenced by the inclination of Mars in its orbit around the Sun.

The Mars Express results were presented at the American Astronomical Society Division of Planetary Sciences meeting in Cambridge, UK.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4219858.stm
 
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Water Detection At Gusev Described

Water Detection At Gusev Described - Chemical Proof For Two Wet Scenarios

This mini-panorama was taken by Spirit on Aug. 23, 2005, just as the rover finally completed its intrepid climb up "Husband Hill." The summit appears to be a windswept plateau of scattered rocks, little sand dunes and small exposures of outcrop.
by Tony Fitzpatrick
St Louis MO (SPX) Sep 08, 2005
A large team of NASA scientists, led by earth and planetary scientists at Washington University in St. Louis details the first solid set of evidence for water having existed on Mars at the Gusev crater, exploration site of the rover Spirit.
Using an array of sophisticated equipment on Spirit, Alian Wang, Ph.D., Washington University senior research scientist in earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences, and the late Larry A. Haskin, Ph.D., Ralph E. Morrow Distinguished University Professor of earth and planetary sciences, found that the volcanic rocks at Gusev crater near Spirit's landing site were much like the olivine-rich basaltic rocks on Earth, and some of them possessed a coating rich in sulfur, bromine, chlorine and hematite, or oxidized iron.

The team examined three rocks and found their most compelling evidence in a rock named Mazatzal.

The rock evidence indicates a scenario where water froze and melted at some point in Martian history, dissolving the sulfur, chlorine and bromine elements in the soil. The small amount of acidic fluids then react with the rocks buried in the soil and formed these highly oxidized coatings.

Trench-digging rover


During its traverse from landing site to Columbia Hills, the rover Spirit dug three trenches, allowing researchers to detect relatively high levels of magnesium sulfate comprising more than 20 percent of the regolith - soil containing pieces of small rocks - within one of the trenches, the Boroughs trench. The tight correlation between magnesium and sulfur indicates an open hydrologic system - these ions had been carried by water to this site and deposited.

Spirit's fellow rover Opportunity earlier had detected a history of water at another site on Mars, Meridiani planum. This study (by Haskin et al.) covered the investigation of Spirit rover sols (a sol is a Martian day) 1 through 156, with the major discoveries occurring after sol 80.

After the findings were confirmed, Spirit traversed to the Columbian hills, where it found more evidence indicating water. The science team is currently planning for sol 551 operation of Spirit rover, which is only 55 meters away from the summit of Columbia Hills.

Spirit was on sol 597 on Sept 6 and on the summit of Husband Hill.

"We will stay on the summit for a few weeks to finish our desired investigations, then go downhill to explore the south inner basin, especially the so-called 'home-plate,' which could be a feature of older rock or a filled-in crater," Wang said. "We will name a major geo-feature in the basin after Larry."

This mini-panorama was taken by Spirit on Aug. 23, 2005, just as the rover finally completed its intrepid climb up "Husband Hill." The summit appears to be a windswept plateau of scattered rocks, little sand dunes and small exposures of outcrop.

Wang, Haskin, their WUSTL colleague Raymond E. Arvidson, chair of earth and planetary sciences, and James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor, and Bradley Jolliff, Ph.D., research associate professor in earth and planetary sciences, and more than two dozen collaborators from numerous institutions, reported their findings in the July 7, 2005 issue of Nature magazine (Larry A. Haskin et al. Nature 436, 66-69 (7 July 2005) doi:10.1038/nature03640).

The paper was the last one that lead author Haskin, a highly regarded NASA veteran and former chair of earth and planetary sciences at WUSTL, submitted before his death on March 24, 2005.

Buried again and again


"We looked closely at the multiple layers on top of the rock Mazatzal because it had a very different geochemistry and mineralogy," said Wang. "This told us that the rock had been buried in the soil and exposed and then buried again several times over the history. There are chemical changes during the burial times and those changes show that the soil had been involved with water.

"The telltale thing was a higher proportion of hematite in the coatings. We hadn't seen that in any previous Gusev rocks. Also, we saw very high chlorine in the coating and very high bromine levels inside the rock. The separation of the sulfur and chlorine tells us that the deposition of chlorine is affected by water."

While the multilayer coatings on rock Mazatzal indicates a temporal occurrence of low quantity water associated with freezing and melting of water, the sulfate deposition at trench sites indicates the involvement of a large body of water.

"We examined the regolith at different depths within the Big Hole and the Boroughs trenches and saw an extremely tight correlation between magnesium and sulfur, which was not observed previously," Wang said.

"This tells us that magnesium sulfate formed in these trench regoliths. The increasing bromine concentration and the separation of chlorine from sulfur also suggests the action of water. We don't know exactly how much water is combined with that. The fact that the magnesium sulfate is more than 20 percent of the examined regolith sample says that the magnesium and sulfur were carried by water to this area from another place, and then deposited as magnesium sulfate. A certain amount of water would be needed to accomplish that action."

http://www.spacedaily.com/news/mars-wat ... e-05k.html
 
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Ice Belt Encircled Mars' Equator

Study: Ice Belt Encircled Mars' Equator

2003 Hubble photo of Mars.
Cambridge, England (UPI) Sep 13, 2005
ESA's Mars Express space probe that entered orbit at the end of 2003 may have found evidence of a band of ice that once spanned the Martian equator.
Scientists says patterns of glacial activity on the planet may be a relic of an ancient belt of ice that formed about five million years ago due to a change in the tilt of Mars. That shift caused moisture from the poles to be deposited as snow at the equator.

The idea is based on work by a team of scientists led by astronomer Jacques Laskar of the Paris Observatory.

Laskar's team has shown the tilt of Mars on its axis can vary between 15 degrees and 40 degrees, largely because of its lack of a significant moon.

Researchers also found that when Mars' tilt changed to about 35 degrees, moisture trapped at the North and South Poles might have been re-deposited in equatorial regions as snow.

Eventually, the poles may have become smaller and a thick belt of ice formed around the tropics.

The study was detailed during the American Astronomical Society's Division of Planetary Sciences meeting this week in Cambridge, England.

Editor's Note: Due to a failure to correct a copy error during today's production, this report was issued with a mistake in the first paragraph where Mars Express was described as a NASA spacecraft. This is obviously not correct, and of course it should have read ESA. The chain on this error is long and goes all the way back to the original news article issued by the UPI news wire. My apologies to all concerned that this error was not picked up earlier by our editor's. SpaceDaily is very much aware that Mars Express is a flagship exploration mission for ESA, and we very much look forward to the momenteous discoveries the MARSIS radar will soon be making.

All rights reserved. © 2005 United Press International. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by United Press International. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of United Press International.

http://www.spacedaily.com/news/mars-wat ... e-05n.html
 
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Drilling on Mars to find evidence of ancient organisms

Drilling on Mars to find evidence of ancient organisms: a second genesis of life?

Was there ever life on Mars? The answer to this question would do more than just satisfy curiosity. Researchers from NASA announce a plan to drill on Mars in search of ancient Martian organisms for comparison between life on Mars and life on Earth.

It is already theorized that life on Earth shares a common ancestor with life on Mars brought about by an exchange of material from meteorites. Evidence of life on Mars would strengthen this theory and give insight to origins of life on Earth.

Current research has focused on attaining fossils of Martian life which would only prove that life once existed on the planet. However, scientists from NASA and the SETI Institute believe that they can find out more information from Martian permafrost.

If researchers could discover dead, but intact organisms from Mars, biochemical and genetic analysis could be performed. These methods would provide a way for direct comparison between the life once found on Mars and the life currently found on Earth.

The best place to look for preserved Martian organisms is in the permafrost found on the Southern hemisphere of Mars. Heavily cratered, this terrain dates back to early Martian history when water was abundant and existence of life more likely.

Scientists at NASA have several obstacles to overcome as they plan this study. Mars is under strict planetary protection laws set forth by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). Any robotic drilling missions would need to utilize sterile equipment to avoid introducing biological material into the Martian environment.

Also, contamination of samples must be avoided to ensure that biological material taken from the permafrost was of Martian origin.

Before a drilling mission to Mars is underway, more research is needed to develop automated drilling systems or systems for human operation.

In the near future though, NASA hopes to find evidence of life on Mars. Could this evidence represent a second genesis of life, separate from that on Earth? The answers may be in the permafrost.

Reference:

Smith HD and McKay CP.
Planetary and Space Science Journal. 2005. Article in Press.

by Gina M. Buss, Copyright 2005 PhysOrg.com
http://physorg.com/news6505.html
 

Rubyait

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Mars 'more active than suspected'

New images of Mars suggest the red planet's surface is more active than previously thought, the US space agency Nasa has announced.
New photographs from Nasa's orbiting spacecraft, Mars Global Surveyor, show new impact craters and gullies.

The agency's scientists also say that deposits of frozen carbon dioxide near the planet's south pole have shrunk for three summers in a row.

They say these changes suggest climate change is in progress.

'Marsquakes'

"To see new gullies and other changes in Mars surface features on a time span of a few years presents us with a more active, dynamic planet than many suspected," said Nasa's Michael Meyer.

The newly released images also show boulder tracks at another site, which were not there two years ago.

Michael Malin, principal investigator for the Mars Orbiter Camera, said it was the first evidence scientists had seen of some kind of seismic activity on the planet.

The Mars Global Surveyor has been orbiting the planet since 1997; Nasa expects it to carry on doing so for another five to 10 years.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4266474.stm

 

Rubyait

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Landslips, impacts and eroding ice revealed on Mars

The landscape of Mars is changing faster than thought, earthquakes may be rattling the planet and global climate change may be eroding polar ice, new observations by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft show.

The images reveal gullies appearing in sandy dunes, and boulders perched atop a dusty slope one year are in a rubble pile at the bottom the next. Mars is also still being slammed by a few meteorites, as new craters prove. And carbon dioxide ice at the south pole appears to be shrinking, possibly due to global warming.

To mark MGS's eighth full year in orbit, NASA has released a new suite of pictures. An April 2005 picture of a sand dune shows a pair of 800-to-900-metre-long gullies not present in a July 2002 picture. The gullies may have formed after pockets of frozen carbon dioxide in the sand thawed in the spring and caused the sand to flow downhill like a fluid.

In 2000, MGS images caused a stir by revealing gullies up to two kilometres long on crater walls and valleys in regions above 30° latitude. At the time, it was thought that water under pressure near the surface could have sprouted up and cut the gullies. But later research indicated that carbon dioxide or dust avalanches may have been to blame.

Scientists were not able to determine precisely when those gullies formed, but MGS's longevity has enabled it to detect changes. The new images show "at least one type of gulley can form under the current conditions, and that's very exciting", says planetary geologist Jack Mustard at Brown University, Rhode Island, US.

Rolling stones
MGS also saw that more than a dozen boulders rolled down a crater wall in the span of 13 months. The boulders could have been felled by high winds or shaking from a meteorite impact, although the spacecraft did not spot any new craters nearby.

Michael Malin, chief scientist of the spacecraft's Mars Orbiter Camera, adds another theory: "Seismic activity would be my guess." If so, it would be the first evidence of current seismic activity on Mars.

It would suggest "a planet which is still warm enough to have movement in its interior", say Mustard. "That could allow us to contemplate that volcanism is still occurring."

The twin Viking landers had seismic instruments, but neither of them worked properly. The rovers currently working on the surface were not fitted with seismographs because their own movements would interfere with the readings.

Retreating ice caps
Another phenomenon revealed by the MGS images is the growth of pits in the carbon dioxide ice at the Martian south pole. Each year, these escarpments are losing about 3 m. The ice caps may be retreating due to a long-term warming of the planet, researchers suggest. View the changing shape of the ice here (8MB GIF).

Finally, MGS found a crater on Mars that did not exist when the Viking 2 spacecraft flew over the area in 1976. The crater, which is 20 metres in diameter, could have been made by a meteorite less than 1 m across.

These latest images are unlikely to be the last from MGS. Despite its relatively old age, the spacecraft does not show any signs of deterioration and it has enough propellant to last well beyond 2010.

http://www.newscientistspace.com/article.ns?id=dn8029
 
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Deciphering Mars: The Future

Deciphering Mars: The Future

'Under the existing strategy, after MSL (illustrated), potential science pathways diverge, contingent on what we find out'.
A Talk by Jack Farmer
Moffett Field (SPX) Sep 27, 2005
The Mars Science Laboratory, to be launched in 2009, is regarded as a keystone mission that marks the transition to the next decade of exploration.
With this mission, to take our exploration for past or present habitable environments and life on Mars to the next level, we will need to respond to discoveries made by the present-decade missions. Under the existing strategy, after MSL, potential science pathways diverge, contingent on what we find out.

I'm going to run through several different scenarios described in a report entitled "Mars Exploration Strategy 2009-2020." This report, published last year by NASA's Mars Science Program Synthesis Group, headed by Dan McCleese, identified a number of alternative exploration pathways. The pathway we follow will come out of what we're learning now.

Continue the Search for Evidence of Past Life. This is an approach we might follow if the present-decade missions going on now confirm that ancient Mars was habitable for extended periods of time.

By this time it is assumed we will have identified a whole bunch of places where we can go to look for fossil biosignatures in ancient rock sequences. I think we've already gotten indications that we might be, at least in part, on this pathway.

Explore for Ancient Hydrothermal Habitats. The discovery of modern or ancient hydrothermal environments in the present decade, might lead us to send missions to this very specific, and highly regarded environment.

Search for Present Life. If we discover modern habitat, say active hydrothermal systems capable of supporting life, we would have to start thinking seriously about in situ life detection and Mars sample return, which is perhaps the most reliable way of detecting life and understanding it. Of course, this discovery would also bring along important planetary protection issues to address: how to mitigate the risks of forward or back contamination.

Explore the Evolution of Mars. This is a pathway we might follow if in the present decade we failed to find evidence for past or present liquid water environments, at least long-lived environments that are capable of supporting life. I don't think we're on this pathway any more. I think we've obliterated this possibility with the results from recent missions.

The nice thing about this pathway analysis is that it was done considering cost constraints, to make it as realistic as possible. For example, for the "search for evidence of past life" pathway, there's a set of missions going out to 2020. This pathway has a Mars sample return in 2016. It's bounded on either side by Mars Scout missions, so that we can afford to do that, because this kind of initial sample return is going to be expensive. Under this scenario, deep drilling comes in 2020.

For the "explore for hydrothermal systems" pathway, there is an alternative set of missions. If we found hydrothermal systems, we'd have a mission in 2013, called the Astrobiology Field Laboratory, that would look for biosignatures in rocks. And out in 2018 deep drilling is identified as a possibility, particularly if we're trying to get into subsurface hydrothermal systems.

The discoveries that have been made just in the last year have somewhat outdated the pathways document. So the community is organizing to develop another set of scenarios that will take into account the discoveries that have occurred, so that the options that we have on the table are truly discovery-driven.

So, to summarize, what have we learned? Mars has had a prolonged aqueous history with widespread surface water during its early period, and hints of a subsurface hydrosphere through much of its younger history, possibly up to the present time. What do we need to know? We still have a lot to learn about the availability of basic nutrients and energy sources in both surface and subsurface environments, essential information for reliable assessment of habitability.

What are the steps we need to take to move toward extant life detection? Ultimately, that's what we're really shooting for. One vital step is to provide flight-ready instrumentation for definitive in-situ life detection at Mars. The astrobiology community is just starting to awaken to the need to develop new approaches to life detection and get them on the discussion table, and to mature those instruments very quickly for flight readiness.

One study has shown that it takes about 8 years from concept to flight, to get an instrument to Mars. So if we want to be out there in the middle of the next decade with a life-detection instrument, we have to be developing that instrumentation now!

We also need to obtain a more thorough understanding of the potential for forward contamination of Mars and how to mitigate against false positives. Carrying some level of "bio-load" with us to Mars is probably unavoidable. We have to know how to deal with that. The whole idea of planetary protection, whether forward to Mars, or backward to the Earth, is still in its infancy as far as actual implementation is concerned.

We need to conduct the first in-situ life detection surveys on the surface of Mars at locations that have proven to be past or present habitable environments. We're still identifying the places to go. Where we want to go may be very difficult to get to and missions will probably need to be specifically designed to go there.

That's technology that needs to be developed as well. If we're going to the subsurface, we have to develop sterile drilling methods to search for subsurface ground water, biochemistry and life.

Eventually, we want to undertake targeted sample returns from high-priority sites where we think we may have detected life, so we can characterize that life in Earth-based labs. But that introduces another whole set of problems, because of the potential for planetary back contamination.

So these are things that have to be dealt with. Now, we have a new presidential initiative. The idea is to get humans to the moon by 2020 and use that as a stepping-stone for humans to Mars by 2030. We'll see what happens. But perhaps one of the most important scientific justifications for sending humans to Mars may be the exploration of the deep subsurface.

It may simply prove impossible - it seems very difficult right now - to drill to multiple-kilometer depths with a robotic system. Maybe that will change, but there will need to be a lot of technology development. It may be much easier to send humans to Mars to run drilling rigs. But we have to be very careful about what we're doing, because the back-contamination issues are really a problem when you talk about human exploration. How do you decontaminate an astronaut?

So there are lots of things to consider for the second decade of exploration. But we're on a path, a phased program of exploration. We've had very interesting discoveries and I think we're going to have a lot more. MRO is going to open a lot of eyes with this new data that we're going to get, data complementary to Mars Express. So I'm very excited about the future of Mars exploration, and I hope you are too!

http://www.spacedaily.com/news/mars-future-05s.html
 
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Sailing the planets: Exploring Mars with guided balloons

Sailing the planets: Exploring Mars with guided balloons

Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have, by now, spent almost two years on the surface of Mars. They traveled several miles each, frequently stopping and analyzing scientific targets with their cameras, spectrometers and other instruments to uncover evidence of liquid water on Mars in the past. Their mission is a smashing success for NASA.

But what if NASA had a platform on Mars that was able to cover these distances in a matter of hours instead and study the rocks on the surface in the same detail as rovers do? Scientific return from such a vehicle would be immense – scientists would be able to study the whole planet in greater detail in a time span of a single year.

While orbiters can look at virtually any point on the surface of a planet, they lack the resolution provided by instruments on rovers or landers. Rovers, on the other hand, have limited mobility and cannot travel very far from their landing site. As the atmosphere of Mars is very thin, an airplane at Mars would last for just an hour until it runs out of fuel.

Global Aerospace Corporation of Altadena, CA proposes that the Mars exploration vehicle combining the global reach similar to that of orbiters and high resolution observations enabled by rovers could be a balloon that can be steered in the right direction and that would drop small science packages over the target sites. The concept being developed by the Global Aerospace Corporation is funded by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC).

Balloons have been long recognized as unique, scientific platforms due to their relatively low cost and low power consumption. Two balloons flew in the atmosphere of Venus in 1984. In the past the inability to control the path of Mars balloons has limited their usefulness, and therefore scientific interest in their use.

Global Aerospace Corporation has designed an innovative device, called Balloon Guidance System (BGS) that enables steering a balloon through the atmosphere. The BGS is an aerodynamic surface – a wing – that hangs on a several kilometer-long tether below the balloon. The difference in winds at different altitudes create a relative wind at the latitude of the BGS wing, which in turn creates a lifting force. This lifting force is directed sideways and can be used to pull the balloon left or right relative to the prevailing winds.

Floating just several kilometers above the surface of Mars, the guided Mars balloons can observe rock formations, layerings in canyon walls and polar caps, and other features – at very high resolution using relatively small cameras. They can be directed to fly over specific targets identified from orbital images and to deliver small surface laboratories, that will analyze the site at the level of detail rovers would do. Instruments at the balloon's gondola can also measure traces of methane in the atmospheric and follow its increasing concentrations to the source on the ground. This way the search for existing or extinct life on Mars can be accelerated.

http://www.physorg.com/news6816.html
 
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Desert RATS Test Robotic Rover

Desert RATS Test Robotic Rover

by Henry Bortman
Moffett Field CA (SPX) Sep 30, 2005

Until earlier this year, when President Bush announced an ambitious blueprint for space exploration, NASA had no plans to send humans back to the moon, or to Mars.
But that didn't stop an intrepid group of scientists, based at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, from investigating technologies that would be needed for such a mission.

Every year for nearly a decade, they have trekked out to remote desert locations to conduct research on equipment and procedures that might some day be used by off-world explorers. The skunkworks project, known as Desert RATS (Research and Technology Studies), has just completed its eighth field season, on a barren cattle ranch near the rim of Meteor Crater, some 40 miles outside Flagstaff, Arizona.

It's hard to find places on Earth that simulate Martian conditions. But the Arizona high desert comes close enough for the experiments the Desert RATS team conducted during the first two weeks of September.

According to Joe Kosmo of Johnson Space Center, who has led the Desert RATS effort since its inception, Meteor Crater is an ideal test site because if you "strip away the vegetation, put the atmospheric pressure at 100,000 feet, and put the sun a little farther away, essentially you're encountering the kind of terrain you'd see on Mars," Rough, slightly hilly desert hard pack, with an assortment of rocks and boulders strewn about. And dust (red, of course). Dust everywhere, blowing around in heavy gusts, making dust devils and coating everything in site.

This year's two-week field test focused on the interaction between a pair of "astronauts" (actually, space-suited scientists) and a rover named SCOUT (Science Crew and Operations Utility Testbed).

When astronauts travel to the moon or Mars, they will be going to do pretty much the same things a geologist does when exploring a field site on Earth: walking around, observing land formations, taking pictures and collecting rock and soil samples. But unlike on Earth, where even at the most remote locations, help is usually not far away, off-world explorers will have severely limited resources. Moreover, they will want to investigate as much terrain as possible, so conserving energy to focus on scientific tasks will be important.

"We're trying to augment the human-machine cooperative working relationship so that the machines can do a lot of the tedious tasks," says Frank Delgado, project lead for SCOUT. For example, by using SCOUT to drive explorers "to the location where they need to do their science, when they get there, they're a lot fresher."

SCOUT looks like an oversized dune buggy. Its design is loosely based on the Moon Buggy used by astronauts on the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions back in the 1970s. Its seats are built to accommodate two passengers wearing bulky spacesuits. Its joystick and computer touch screen are optimized for easy use by heavily gloved hands. And it is tricked out with an eclectic array of cameras, speakers and a host of communications gear. Its maximum ground speed: 6 miles per hour.

SCOUT had its first real-world test during the 2004 Desert RATS field season, but in that initial shakedown it was driven under manual control. "We basically focused on having somebody drive it from onboard," says Delgado. "So if you needed to get to a crater or somewhere to collect some rocks, they would jump onboard, and they'd drive it."

This year the RATS team tried out several automated modes of operation, including tele-operation, voice commands and gesture recognition. The field tests, which were highly successful, were the first ever that involved such complex interaction between humans and a semi-autonomous robotic assistant.

One type of tele-operation involved operating the rover in real- or near-real-time from a remote location. The operators used a joystick and a set of switches, knobs and buttons to control the rover as though they were onboard. Delgado's team was able to tele-operate SCOUT in this way both from a Desert RATS command center located about a half-mile from the test site and from a control center about 1200 miles away at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

This is a feasible approach for operating a robotic rover on the moon from a lunar base or even from Earth. It could also be used by humans operating a rover from a local command base on Mars. It wouldn't be possible to tele-operate a Mars rover from Earth in real-time, however, because it takes too long for radio-command signals to get from one planet to the other.

Earth-based scientists could tele-operate a rover on Mars using batch commands, however. For example, "You can say, Go to waypoint 1, take a picture; go to waypoint 2, take a panorama; go to waypoint 3; and then come back home.' And it will do that automatically," says Delgado.

This is similar to the way in which mission controllers operate the Spirit and Opportunity rovers currently exploring Mars. But sending commands to Spirit and Opportunity requires first going through a laborious process of translating science-team requests into a sequence of arcane commands in a specialized language that the rovers can understand. SCOUT can understand direct voice commands.

Perhaps the most intriguing mode of operation that Delgado's team successfully tested was a procedure known as "human following," in which the rover followed one of the scientists as he explored on foot. To initiate human following, the scientist stood in front of the rover and said, "SCOUT, follow me." Onboard the rover, Delgado explains, is a pair of stereo cameras and a computerized shape-recognition system that knows "what a person should look like.

It locks onto them and as they walk around in front of the vehicle, the cameras will swivel to that direction. If they walk away from the vehicle, the vehicle actually follows them, like a pack mule. So if they're doing some sort of geological expedition and they're going to go out a half mile or a mile, the vehicle will be right there for them to get back on, instead of them having to walk all the way back."

Delgado's engineers also got SCOUT to respond to commands issued in the form of gestures. One of the scientists stood in front of the rover and put out his arm, as though signaling for a left turn. SCOUT recognized the gesture and turned on its lights. When the scientist bent his arm at a 90-degree angle, SCOUT turned the lights back off.

This was only a proof of concept, but it holds great promise. For example, says Delgado, an astronaut could point to an interesting rock and say, " Take a picture of that.' [The rover] will see where their finger's pointing and it'll turn the cameras in that direction and take a picture."

Although future missions to the moon and Mars will utilize vehicles with SCOUT-like capabilities, SCOUT was built as a testbed, and not as a prototype of a rover for a future mission. "There's a lot of basic functionality in the vehicle," Delgado explains, "that's there to support some of the concepts that we're trying to develop - the autonomous operations, tele-operations, obstacle avoidance, human following."

But features like rubber tires with air in them, or the rover's aluminum frame "would never be flown to the moon or to Mars." Moreover, the computer systems on SCOUT are built from off-the-shelf components. Hardware used on vehicles intended for spaceflight have to be specially designed for protection against dust, intense radiation and other severe conditions.

Still, the lessons learned in testing SCOUT will no doubt be applied to designing whatever rovers do get built to accompany humans on their return to the moon, and eventually to Mars.

http://www.spacedaily.com/news/mars-robot-05b.html

 
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Mars Rovers May Yet Make Major Discoveries

Mars Rovers May Yet Make Major Discoveries

So far, Opportunity has driven more than 3 1/2 miles across Mars; while Spirit has driven 3 miles, the Monitor said.
Washington (UPI) Oct 03, 2005
NASA scientists in Washington have stopped making predictions about the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity as the devices continue to navigate across Mars.
Both devices represent a remarkable engineering feat as they continue to function nearly 1 1/2 years past their predicted expiration date, the Christian Science Monitor reported Monday.

Now the mission's lead scientist, Steve Squyres, believes the biggest discoveries lie ahead for the rovers. But, at the same time, Squyres is aware both machines continue to operate in an environment in which temperatures rise and fall daily by more than 200 degrees F.

Since the rovers have continued to function long after their projected expiration, scientists have stopped predicting when they will stop working. So far, Opportunity has driven more than 3 1/2 miles across Mars; while Spirit has driven 3 miles, the Monitor said.

Squyres says he believes they've lasted this long only because Martian windstorms have unexpectedly wiped away dust accumulating on their solar panels.

All rights reserved. © 2005 United Press International. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by United Press International.. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of United Press International.

http://www.spacedaily.com/news/mars-mers-05zzzze.html
 
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Frozen Microbes Reveal How To Test For Martian Life

Frozen Microbes Reveal How To Test For Martian Life

"We tested equipment that we are developing to look for life on Mars and discovered a rare and complex microbial community living in blue ice vents inside a frozen volcano," remarked Hans E.F. Amundsen of Physics of Geological Processes (PGP) at the University of Oslo, Norway, and leader of the international AMASE team.

AMASE, the Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition, is designing devices and techniques to find life on Mars. Their test ground is Svalbard, (Norway) an area with a geology that is analogous to some Martian geology.

"The instruments detected both living and fossilized organisms, which is the kind of evidence we'd be searching for on the Red Planet," he continued. The AMASE expedition will be featured on Norwegian TV on October 6.

Science leader of AMASE, Andrew Steele of the Carnegie Institution's Geophysical Laboratory, explained that "ice-filled volcanic vents, such as these, are likely to occur on Mars and may be a potential habitat for life there."

The carbonate rocks found within the approximately 1-million-year-old Sverrefjell volcano on Svalbard are similar to carbonate rosettes found in the Martian meteorite ALH84001 and may have been produced by common processes. The blue ice, trapped in the volcanic vents, may represent samples of water that formed identical carbonate deposits in the Sverrefjell volcano.

The scientists detected living and fossilized microbiota, in the ice and on the surfaces and cracks of other volcanic rocks, using their integrated life-detection strategy successfully tested by AMASE in 2004. "Our instrument, designed by scientists at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), detected minute quantities of aromatic hydrocarbons from microorganisms and lichens present in the rocks and ice," said Arthur Lonne Lane of JPL who made his 2nd voyage with the AMASE team.

Steele's team from Carnegie deployed a suite of instruments to detect and characterize low levels of microbiota. "We performed several successful tests with a miniaturized instrument fitted with special protein microarray chips," says Steele. "Our results showed that we were able to maintain sterile sampling procedures without introducing contamination from humans."

Coring of the blue-ice vents and surface glacial ice involved developing a detailed procedure for sterilization of the ice-coring tool. "The organisms found in ice are survivors! Small ecosystems in the ice have apparently adapted to extremely cold conditions," says Liane Benning, University of Leeds. The ice and rock samples will be characterized further in labs at the Carnegie, the Smithsonian Institution, PGP, Penn State, and University of Leeds.

This summer's AMASE expedition also involved interdisciplinary studies of the world's northern-most thermal springs above sea level, rock weathering and pattern formation, and biota in glacial ice by the physicists, geologists, chemists, and biologists on the team.

The AMASE group sampled sedimentary rocks that are roughly 780 million-year-old, which contain remarkable remains of microbial structures that still maintained morphologic structure.

"These rocks hold potential chemical markers of fossilized life. If there is similar evidence in ancient rocks on Mars, our equipment will be able to find it," says Marilyn Fogel, biogeochemist and astrobiologist at Carnegie.

The Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition (AMASE 2005) team comes from the following institutions: Physics of Geological Processes, University of Oslo; The Carnegie Institution of Washington, Geophysical Laboratory and Department of Terrestrial Magnetism; NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory; University of Leeds; University of Oxford; Universidad de Burgos, Spain; The Smithsonian Institution; Penn State University; Geological Institute, University of Oslo and Idaho National Laboratory. The expedition photographer was Kjell Ove Storvik and expedition artist was Eamonn Shaw. AMASE 2005 included reporters from Die Zeit and Norwegian radio (NRK P2) and a film crew from Norwegian television (NRK1-Schrödingers Katt).

http://www.physorg.com/news6982.html
 
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Mars' Climate In Flux: Mid-latitude Glaciers

Source: Geological Society of America
Date: 2005-10-18
Mars

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Mars' Climate In Flux: Mid-latitude Glaciers
New high-resolution images of mid-latitude Mars are revealing glacier-formed landscapes far from the Martian poles, says a leading Mars researcher.

Conspicuous trains of debris in valleys, arcs of debris on steep slopes and other features far from the polar ice caps bear striking similarities to glacial landscapes of Earth, says Brown University's James Head III. When combined with the latest climate models and orbital calculation for Mars, the geological features make a compelling case for Mars having ongoing climate shifts that allow ice to leave the poles and accumulate at lower latitudes.

"The exciting thing is a real convergence of these things," said Head, who presented the latest Mars climate discoveries on Sunday, 16 October, at the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America in Salt Lake City.

"For decades people have been saying that deposits at mid and equatorial latitudes look like they are ice-created," said Head. But without better images, elevation data and some way of explaining it, ice outside of Mars' polar regions was a hard sell.

Now high-resolution images from the Mars Odyssey spacecraft's Thermal Emission Imaging System combined with images from the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft's Mars Orbiter Camera and Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter can be compared directly with glacier features in mountain and polar regions of Earth. The likenesses are hard to ignore.

For instance, consider what Head calls "lineated valley fill." These are lines of debris on valley floors that run downhill and parallel to the valley walls, as if they mark some sort of past flow. The same sorts of lines of debris are seen in aerial images of Earth glaciers. The difference is that on Mars the water ice sublimes away (goes directly from solid ice to gas, without any liquid phase between) and leaves the debris lines intact. On Earth the lines of debris are usually washed away as a glacier melts.

The lines of debris on Mars continue down valleys and converges with other lines of debris - again, just like what's seen on Earth where glaciers converge.

"There's so much topography and the debris is so thick (on Mars) that it's possible some of the ice might still be there," said Head. The evidence for present day ice includes unusually degraded recent impact craters in these areas - just what you'd expect to see if a lot of the material ejected from the impact was ice that quickly sublimed away.

Another peculiarly glacier-like feature seen in Martian mid-latitudes are concentric arcs of debris breaking away from steep mountain alcoves - just as they do at the heads of glaciers on Earth.

As for how ice could reach Mars lower latitudes, orbital calculations indicate that Mars may slowly wobble on its spin axis far more than Earth does (the Moon minimizes Earth's wobble). This means that as Mars' axis tilted to the extremes - up to 60 degrees from the plane of Mars' orbit - the Martian poles get a whole lot more sunshine in the summertime than they do now. That extra sun would likely sublime water from the polar ice caps, explains Head.

"When you do that you are mobilizing a lot of ice and redistributing it to the equator," Head said. "The climate models are saying it's possible."

It's pure chance that we happen to be exploring Mars when its axis is at a lesser, more Earth-like tilt. This has led to the false impression of Mars being a place that's geologically and climatically dead. In fact, says Head, Mars is turning out to be a place that is constantly changing.

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Lineated Valley Fill at the Dichotomy Boundary on Mars: Evidence for Regional Mid-Latitude Glaciation View abstract: glaciation
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Chamber Helps To Reproduce Conditions On Mars

Chamber Helps To Reproduce Conditions On Mars

"In a set of short term experiments ranging from one day to nearly two weeks in duration, quite a few microorganisms survived the harsh environment," said Thomas. His experiments were conducted with environmental conditions in the chamber (shown) set as it may be possible to make them in the future, rather than as they are believed to exist today.
Greenville IN (SPX) Oct 28, 2005
A little bit of mars has landed at SHOT, and it's open for business. Developed with support from the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC), the SHOT Martian Environment Simulator faithfully recreates the atmosphere, temperature and light spectrum found on the red planet.
Researchers from across the nation recently have begun conducting experiments inside the device's 5,673 cubic centimeter (346.2 cubic inch) pure quartz central chamber, which is a test bed for experimental ecopoiesis. Ecopoiesis is the starting-up of a planetary ecosystem based on Earth life. It also is a component of terraforming -- the creation of an Earth-like planetary environment.

"This new test bed opens up a world of planetary conditions for biologists and mineralogists to explore," Said, SHOT Chief Scientist Paul Todd, Ph.D. "Scientists can put simple life forms in it to determine their ability to survive on planets such as Mars."

To simulate the environment, the quartz test chamber is filled with the gas composition found on Mars -- more than 95 percent of which is carbon dioxide. The chamber can maintain the gas at as little as 10 millibars of atmospheric pressure. Earth's atmospheric pressure is 1,000 millibars.

The entire chamber is housed in an enclosure that uses liquid nitrogen to lower the temperature to minus 211 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 135 Celsius). Internal heaters raise it to a daytime Martian temperature of 78.8 degrees Fahrenheit (26 Celsius). A 1,000-watt xenon-arc lamp simulates the solar light spectrum that reaches the planet's surface.

"Replenishment of life support consumables for humans on planetary surfaces may enable long duration occupancy and exploration," said NIAC Director Robert A. Cassanova, Ph.D. "The SHOT team, led by Dr. Paul Todd, is exploring the concept of ecopoiesis which may eventually lead to the evolution of plant species that will thrive on planetary surfaces and provide these essential consumables for explorers."

SHOT has assembled an all-star team of Mars scientists to ensure that the system faithfully recreates the conditions that are the most interesting to researchers studying extremophiles -- organisms that are able to survive in extremely harsh environments. The scientific advisory committee includes Christopher P. McKay, Ph.D., and Lynn Rothschild, Ph.D., NASA Ames Research Center; Andrew Schuerger, Ph.D., University of Florida; Lawrence Kuznetz, Ph.D., NASA Johnson Space Center; Penelope J. Boston, Ph.D., New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and president of Complex Systems Research, Inc.; and David J. Thomas, Ph.D., Lyon College.

An associate professor of biology at the Batesville, Arkansas campus of Lyon College, Thomas recently concluded his first set of experiments in the chamber's red simulated Martian soil.

"In a set of short term experiments ranging from one day to nearly two weeks in duration, quite a few microorganisms survived the harsh environment," said Thomas. His experiments were conducted with environmental conditions in the chamber set as it may be possible to make them in the future, rather than as they are believed to exist today.

"If we can find a way to warm mars by four degrees Celsius, we can start a runaway greenhouse effect that will melt the ice cap and any other water frozen on the planet's surface.

The condition limiting life on Mars is dryness," said Thomas, who also serves as editor of Marsbugs, an online astrobiology newsletter.

Researchers interested in conducting experiments in the chamber at SHOT headquarters, or in installing a SHOT Martian Environment Simulator in their own laboratories, are encouraged to call 812-923-9591 x246 for more information.

Founded in 1988 as the result of a successful science fair entry, SHOT is an engineering and product development company. Its 27 full-time engineers, scientists and technicians are professional inventors.

The company specializes in providing a multidisciplinary systems approach to design challenges. SHOT mechanical, electrical, software, chemical, thermal, structural and systems engineers work as an integrated team – often together with the company's in-house chief scientist.

It serves several government agencies, universities and a growing list of commercial customers. SHOT has developed research payloads for seven space shuttle missions and three sub-orbital rocket flights.


http://www.spacedaily.com/news/mars-atmosphere-05e.html
 
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life could exist on Mars

Methane found in desert soils bolsters theories that life could exist on Mars

Evidence of methane-producing organisms can be found in inhospitable soil environments much like those found on the surface of Mars, according to experiments undertaken by scientists and students from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and the University of Arkansas and published online in the journal Icarus.

These results, they say, provide ample impetus for similar "biodetection experiments" to be considered for future missions to Mars.

"Methane-producing organisms are the ones most likely to be found on Mars," notes Joseph Miller, Ph.D., associate professor of cell and neurobiology at the Keck School and one of the study's lead researchers. "And, in fact, methane was detected on Mars last year."

Methane is considered to be a biological signature for certain living organisms that metabolize organic matter under conditions of low or no oxygen. Terrestrial methanogens (methane-producers) are typically found in environments largely protected from atmospheric oxygen, such as peat bogs, oceanic methane ices and anoxic levels of the ocean. But they had not previously been detected in an arid desert environment.

To see if methane could be found in Mars-like soil, the investigators collected soil and vapor samples from the arid environment of the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, and then compared them with vapor samples taken from the Idaho High Desert and soil samples from Death Valley, the Arctic and the Atacama desert in Chile. Three of five vapor samples from the Utah site showed the presence of methane; there was no methane found in any of the vapor samples from Idaho. Similarly, while five of 40 soil samples from Utah produced methane after the addition of growth medium to the samples-indicating that the methane was being given off by a biological organism, most likely a bacterium-none of the other soil samples showed signs of methane production.

Finding methane in the Utah desert is no guarantee that methane-producers exist on Mars, admits Miller, who has previously analyzed data from the Viking Lander missions and found that soil samples taken in the 1970s from the Martian surface exhibited a circadian rhythm in what appeared to be nutrient metabolism, much like that present in terrestrial microbes. However, Miller says, this recent experiment does provide "proof of principle [in that] it improves the case that such bacteria can and might exist on the Martian surface." And that, he adds, surely warrants further investigation during future missions to Mars.

In conclusion, the researchers write, "The detection of methane, apparently of biological origin, in terrestrial desert regolith bodes well for future biodetection experiments in at least partially analogous Martian environments."

http://www.physorg.com/news7724.html

Source: University of Southern California
 
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Work Bolsters Life On Mars Theories

Work Bolsters Life On Mars Theories

"Methane-producing organisms are the ones most likely to be found on Mars," noted Joseph Miller, associate professor of cell and neurobiology in the Keck School and one of the study's lead researchers.
By Lori Oliwenstein
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Nov 04, 2005
A Keck School scientist and his collaborators are the first to find methane-producing bacteria in arid desert soils, providing a springboard for future experiments on the distant planet.
"Methane-producing organisms are the ones most likely to be found on Mars," noted Joseph Miller, associate professor of cell and neurobiology in the Keck School and one of the study's lead researchers.

Evidence of methane-producing organisms can be found in inhospitable soil environments much like those found on the surface of Mars, according to experiments undertaken by scientists and students from the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the University of Arkansas and published online in the journal Icarus.

The results, they said, provide ample impetus for similar "biodetection experiments" to be considered for future missions to Mars.

"Methane-producing organisms are the ones most likely to be found on Mars," noted Joseph Miller, associate professor of cell and neurobiology in the Keck School and one of the study's lead researchers. "And, in fact, methane was detected on Mars last year."

Methane is considered to be a biological signature for certain living organisms that metabolize organic matter under conditions of low or no oxygen.

Terrestrial methanogens (methane-producers) are typically found in environments largely protected from atmospheric oxygen, such as peat bogs, oceanic methane ices and anoxic levels of the ocean. But they previously had not been detected in an arid desert environment.

To see if methane could be found in Mars-like soil, the investigators collected soil and vapor samples from the arid environment of the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah and then compared them with vapor samples taken from the Idaho High Desert and soil samples from Death Valley, the Arctic and the Atacama desert in Chile.

Three of five vapor samples from the Utah site showed the presence of methane; there was no methane found in any of the vapor samples from Idaho. Similarly, while five of 40 soil samples from Utah produced methane after the addition of growth medium to the samples – indicating that the methane was being given off by a biological organism, most likely a bacterium – none of the other soil samples showed signs of methane production.

Finding methane in the Utah desert is no guarantee that methane-producers exist on Mars, said Miller, who previously has analyzed data from the Viking Lander missions and found that soil samples taken in the 1970s from the Martian surface exhibited a circadian rhythm in what appeared to be nutrient metabolism, much like that present in terrestrial microbes.

However, Miller said, this recent experiment does provide "proof of principle [in that] it improves the case that such bacteria can and might exist on the Martian surface." And, he added, that surely warrants further investigation during future missions to Mars.

In conclusion, the researchers wrote, "The detection of methane, apparently of biological origin, in terrestrial desert regolith bodes well for future biodetection experiments in at least partially analogous Martian environments."


http://www.spacedaily.com/news/mars-life-05za.html
 
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Simulations Show Liquid Water Could Exist on Mars



University of Arkansas researchers have become the first scientists to show that liquid water could exist for considerable times on the surface of Mars.

Image: This Petri dish contains the Mars soil stimulant used in the experiments inside the simulation chamber. Note the layers of ice and dust and the darkening of the dust. Also, water has flowed out onto the surface and in some places lies over dry soil. The mud forms a seal and helps retain water. Photos courtesy of Derek Sears.

Julie Chittenden, a graduate student with the Arkansas Center for Space and Planetary Sciences, and Derek Sears, director of the Space Center and the W.M. Keck Professor of Planetary Sciences, will report their findings in an upcoming issue of the Geophysical Research Letters.

"These experiments will help us understand how water behaves on Mars," Chittenden said.

Researchers have debated whether or not liquid water could exist on the surface of Mars because of the low temperatures and pressures found on the planet. Based on previous experiments and hypotheses, scientists have speculated that pure water on the planet's surface would evaporate from solid to gas, bypassing the liquid phase, at the low pressures found on Mars - 7 millibars as opposed to about 1,013 millibars on Earth. However, the planet's surface sports features like gullies and channels that look as though they might have been created by the movement of liquid. Terrestrial experiments designed to simulate Mars-like conditions have been performed to help answer this question of whether or not liquid water exists on Mars, but until this point they have only been done with pure water at high pressures.

Chittenden and Sears used a planetary environmental chamber in the W.M. Keck Laboratory for Space Simulation to simulate the conditions found on Mars - an atmosphere of carbon dioxide, 7 millibars of pressure and temperatures from zero degrees Celsius to 25 degrees below - and examined the evaporation rates of brine solutions expected to be found on Mars. Most water on Earth contains salts that leech into the water when it comes in contact with soil, and similar processes might be expected to occur in any surface water found on the Red Planet. Salts in the water lower the freezing point of the solution.

The University of Arkansas team placed the salt solutions in the planetary environmental chamber simulating Mars-like conditions, and then measured the evaporation rates at varying temperatures.




Image: This hydrogen distribution map from Los Alamos National Laboratories shows where hydrogen that may be tied up in water exists on Mars. Photos courtesy of Derek Sears.

"There's a huge decrease in the evaporation rate the colder it gets, more than anyone realized," Chittenden said. With the dissolved sodium and calcium in the water, the freezing point for the brine mixtures drops to 21 degrees below zero Celsius for salt water and 50 degrees below zero for water containing calcium chloride.

Temperatures on Mars vary between 125 degrees below zero Celsius and 28 degrees above at different latitudes and different times of the day. Thus, there is a possibility that liquid water could exist on the planet's surface at different locations and times of day.

"Brine formation could considerably increase the stability of water on Mars by both extending the temperature range over which liquid water is stable to negative-40 degrees Celsius and by decreasing the evaporation rates by two orders of magnitude," the researchers wrote.

Source: University of Arkansas

http://www.physorg.com/news7981.html
 
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