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Water On Mars

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Anonymous

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Martian Ice Ocean

According to the BBC vast oceans of ice have been found just below the surface of Mars:

'Water-ice has been found in vast quantities just below the surface across great swathes of the planet Mars.
The finding by the American space agency Nasa is undoubtedly one of the most important made about the Red Planet.

It solves one of its deepest mysteries, points the way for manned exploration and reignites the question of whether life may exist on Mars...

... Many lines of evidence suggest that the Red Planet was water-rich in the past, so where did all that water go?

The answer appears to be that it is in the regolith - the layer of loose rock and dust on the surface.'

Ray Bradbury would have loved it.:)
 

intaglio

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I'm a bit doubtful about the full extent of the ice. The BBC report is founded upon a report after "British newspaper leaked the news"

Also the reported amount is HUGE
if it were to melt it could cover the planet in an ocean at least 500 metres deep (1,640 feet) :confused:
I hope NASA brings its real announcement forward.
 

Pete Younger

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If it proves to be true, will it bring the dream of terraforming a step closer?
 

DerekH16

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p.younger said:
If it proves to be true, will it bring the dream of terraforming a step closer?
Or will it prove to be full of frozen mammoths? :)

Seriously, though:

1) It saves visitors from having to carry as much water for their own consumption (thus reducing payload/costs)
2) Electrolyse it, get hydrogen for power, oxygen for breathing - once again, don't have to transport as much...
3) Terraforming? Definitely easier, I would say.
 
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Anonymous

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Just wait till they find oil up there!

(Totally gratuitous attempt to post a cartoon).
 
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Anonymous

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Update on the Martian water situation from the BBC:

'New maps show that Ma'adim Vallis, one of the biggest valleys on Mars, formed when a large lake overflowed over a low point in its perimeter...

...They calculate the lake would have been about 1.1 million square kilometres in area and 1,100 meters deep.

It is yet one more piece of evidence that shows Mars had a past that was wet and warm. A picture is emerging of the planet as one vast "lakeland" in which life could possibly have developed.'
 
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Anonymous

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There's bound to be Martians! Hooray! 'bout bloody time.
 
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Inverurie Jones said:
There's bound to be Martians! Hooray! 'bout bloody time.
Yes. But, will they get here in time to save us?
 

ruffready

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man , if we could pull together

the money (like we're doing currently moving troops and such..) we should be going to mars , and checking this out!! I just can't believe with this kind of activity that "some kind" of life on mars "past or present" isn't to be found. Enough circles around the planet..lets finish the space station and go to Mars!!
 

Philo_T

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And now for a contrairian view...

Blaugh.

That's evidence enough to seriously consider some form of life -- at least on a primative level.

Up 'till now, we could just blithly blunder about the solar system. Now we can't go because we'd be seriously concerned about face-eating microbes from Mars. :eek!!!!:
 
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Anonymous

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Why is everyone excited about a trickle of brine on a dry planet? There is an ocean of nearly fresh water on Europa by all accounts...
 
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Anonymous

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To Boldly Go...

My wife asks, when I occasionally bring up the subject of space exploration, "Why?"

But, surely, the question of 'Is there life out there?' is one of the really big ones? Isn't it one of the most fundamental questions in all of science?

Shouldn't we all be pulling together to find out? It would answer so many questions, not only of science, for curiosities sake, but also, of a philosophical and religious nature. A chance like that doesn't come along very often.

We should be heading for Mars Now! Yes and Europa! If only so's humanity can better wrap its head around a more realistic sense of our place in the scheme of things and cut us down to size.
 
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Anonymous

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So if primitive lifeforms are found on Mars, that would make us the Great Old Ones from the Heavens?
I was rather hoping the universe had a higher power: scared shitless if it turns out to be us!
 
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whizzer said:
So if primitive lifeforms are found on Mars, that would make us the Great Old Ones from the Heavens?
I was rather hoping the universe had a higher power: scared shitless if it turns out to be us!
No. It would mean life on this planet was not 'unique,' a one off. Therefore it would be slightly less likely that a God, just like the ones in the required reading 'Books of Holy Writ' (Who always resembles, or even claims to be the Writer of said Book), made the World and the Whole Universe, just for Mankind.

In fact, not even for everybody, just His Chosen followers. So that His Chosen Followers can then use the World and the Entire Universe (which He has made for them and given them), for their very own personal toilet (and everything in it), to the 'Greater Glory' of said Deity. :mad:
 
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Anonymous

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Re: My Last Post...

I am of course, hopelessly naive and idealistic. Any Preacher worth his salt would quickly go from an, 'Earth, unique in the Universe' postion to an 'Our Deity made it all for us and there's more!' postion, without missing a beat. :(
 

Timble2

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Even if it's little grey blobs rather than little grey humanoids, I hope we find out.

Maybe the Beagle 2 mission will turn round our ideas about origin of life as much as the original voyage of the Beagle did.
 

JurekB

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Re: Re: My Last Post...

AndroMan said:
I am of course, hopelessly naive and idealistic. Any Preacher worth his salt would quickly go from an, 'Earth, unique in the Universe' postion to an 'Our Deity made it all for us and there's more!' postion, without missing a beat. :(
I once had a chat about this very subject with a fundamentalist baptist preacher. His view was that he hoped there was intelligent life out there because they might have excepted Gods word and would still be living in the paradise that God created for them.

We didn't get round to finding out what would happen if the aliens have no real concept of an all knowing deity.
 
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Re: And now for a contrairian view...

Philo T said:
Up 'till now, we could just blithly blunder about the solar system. Now we can't go because we'd be seriously concerned about face-eating microbes from Mars. :eek!!!!:
If you take your suit off for long enough for the little buggers to eat your face, you're in serious trouble already...
 

Philo_T

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Inverurie:
Admittedly, I was taking my position to the extreme.
Obviously, face-eating microbes would have evolved in an environment that included easy access to faces in the first place! :D

But this does raise the spectre of biological cross-contamination actually being a relevant issue. I seem to recall that as of late, we've been more concerned with sterilizing equiptment sent to Mars (and Europa). I don't recall if we (or the Rusians) were in the 60's and 70's, though.

Looking at Mars, I would wager that a good blast of oxygen would probably kill off any little hitchhikers that we inadvertently brought back.
 
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Anonymous

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I was joking...but such things do worry me as well. It might be a good idea to conduct any experiments involving martian rocks on the space station, rather than down here.

Let me rephrase that; don't bring them down here for Gawd's sake...
 
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Anonymous

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Philo T said:
Inverurie:But this does raise the spectre of biological cross-contamination actually being a relevant issue. I seem to recall that as of late, we've been more concerned with sterilizing equiptment sent to Mars (and Europa). I don't recall if we (or the Rusians) were in the 60's and 70's, though.
The Apollo missions were pretty scrupulous, visa vi decontamination, in case of microbes from space, or the moon.

Nothing's been brought back, yet by manned, or unmanned mission from Mars. I reckon, hygiene should be a top priority, both ways if they ever get a proper Mars, or Europa, mission off the ground.

I've seen those old 8mm films, of Prof. Bernie Quatermass, several times, and know the terrible consequences of possible contamination from outer space!
 
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Anonymous

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It is extremely unlikely that anything on Mars would attack earth based organisms- they are more likely to be like our own extremophile organisms found in rocks and subterranean aquifers- we have been drinking them for years...
If the first manned mission to Mars doesn't bring all it's waste matter back off the surface there will be life there alright (but only afterwards)
This is a real ethical problem in many ways- if there are tiny amounts of nano bacteria there do we abandon the second best planet in the solar system to them?
 
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Anonymous

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we'd certainly change the course of Mars' evolution forever.

I'd still sign up to go if they wanted volunteers.
 

rynner2

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Radon leaks could reveal water on Mars
Sniffing for puffs of radioactive radon gas could be the easiest way to find water lurking metres beneath the Martian soil.

We already know there should be plenty of water on Mars. Probes have found water vapour in the Martian atmosphere and ice on the surface at the poles. And NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft recently detected traces of hydrogen, almost certainly bound up in ice near the surface.

But Mars Odyssey's sensors could only peek into the top metre of soil, and although the European Space Agency's Mars Express - due to reach the planet in December - has surface-penetrating radar that can spot water, it can only probe to between 100 metres and 5 kilometres underground.

That leaves a gap between 1 and 100 metres. NASA plans to send another craft to probe this depth with radar in 2005. But while radar is great at finding liquid water, it has a hard time distinguishing between ice and solid rock.

High speed

Now Jean-Christophe Sabroux from the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety in Saclay, France, says radon is the answer. Radon is produced by the radioactive decay of uranium, which is common in rocks on Earth and Mars.

The reaction kicks out radon at high speed, so the gas often embeds itself in a nearby mineral grain. But if there is water or ice in the way, the radon slows as it passes through. Without enough energy to dig itself in, the radon gas diffuses upwards and emerges at the surface (see graphic).

Radon has a short half-life, and on Earth it diffuses only a few metres through the ground before decaying. On Mars, however, where atmospheric pressure is low, the radon should be able to travel up to 20 metres.

That means a standard alpha-particle detector - which weighs just a few tenths of a gram, has no moving parts and consumes only a fraction of a watt - could be used to detect surface emissions from underground ice reserves.


Cosmic rays
Even if radon does show up, it will still be tricky to work out how much ice there is or where exactly it lies. And it is possible that background radiation from cosmic rays could drown out the signal. But if no radon is detected, it will mean the soil is definitely dry. "It's so straightforward," says Sabroux.

And since determining the presence of ice and water on Mars is vital to the search for life, he notes, it is best to have as much data from as many different methods as possible.

The idea for a radon sensor has now been added to a French proposal for a NASA mission in 2009. "One can expect a great scientific outcome for a minute outlay, so why not?" says Sabroux.

Daryl Dixon, a radon expert from the UK's National Radiological Protection Board in Chilton, Oxfordshire, thinks Sabroux could be onto something. "In principle the theory is sound. But it's hard to know how it would pan out on another planet," he says. "It's worth a shot, certainly."
(Diagram and links on page.)
 

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Martian warm spots could be towers of ice
Unusual warm spots on Mars might represent "ice towers" similar to those seen in Antarctica, say researchers. They could even harbour life, Nick Hoffman of Melbourne University told a conference on Thursday.

Hoffman detected warm spots in the Hellas Basin after scrutinising infrared images taken with THEMIS, the heat-sensing camera on the Mars Odyssey orbiter. The spots are between 20 and 40 degrees warmer than their surroundings both night and day, and irrespective of whether they are being hit by sunlight.

The simplest explanation, claims Hoffman, is that the warm spots are caused by some kind of geothermal activity causing the release of water vapour. If so, they could resemble the ice towers found on Mount Erebus, an active volcano on Ross Island in Antarctica, where the conditions are almost as cold and dry as on Mars.

The Mount Erebus towers are 10-metre tall chimneys of ice and are found nowhere else on Earth. They are created when the steam from volcanic vents hits the intense cold of the Antarctic air and condenses directly into ice, says to Hoffman's colleague Phil Kyle of New Mexico Tech in Socorro.

The thermal anomalies - top left and bottom right - in the Hellas Basin remain day and night (Image: Mars Odyssey/THEMIS)
"It's really fascinating," says Malcolm Walter, director of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie University in Sydney. "Anything about Mars is going to be speculative, but this is a really good working hypothesis for the future exploration."

UV filter

No one has investigated whether the Mount Erebus towers harbour microbial life, although microbes are known to thrive in far harsher conditions in Antarctica. On Mars, such icy towers would be doubly good for life because not only would they be relatively warm, but the ice would filter out some of the dangerous ultra-violet radiation.

Furthermore, the Hellas Basin is at low altitude, and therefore has relatively high atmospheric pressure. This means there is a chance that the ice might melt to provide liquid water as it sometimes does in the Mount Erebus towers, says Hoffman.

The warm spots could be investigated visually as early as 2004, when the clouds are expected to clear over the Hellas Basin, a giant impact crater in the planet's southern hemisphere. That would provide the opportunity for the Mars Global Surveyor to capture high-resolution photos of the area, suggests Hoffman. The ice towers could grow as high as 30 m in the lower Martian gravity, and would stand out against the darker soil.

Carbon dioxide snow

Hoffman is best known for his theory that water and life probably do not exist on Mars, arguing that carbon dioxide snow, rather than liquid water, etched out the gullies seen.

But Hoffman does not think his new idea is contradictory. Instead, he says that to settle the debate, the next generation of exploration needs to look in the places most likely to harbour liquid water, such as the warm spots in the Hellas Basin.

"These are the locations on Mars where you are mostly likely to find liquid water, and they would be very easy to find because they will have these ice towers like signposts," he says.

Hoffman presented the new work at the 6th International Conference on Mars in Pasadena, California
I found this very interesting, as I had never heard of these Antarctic ice towers before! Photos and links in the article.
 

rynner2

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Water on Mars

"Breathtaking" new maps of likely sites of water on Mars showcase their association with geologic features such as Vallis Marineris, the largest canyon in the solar system.


Water on Mars: Overlay of water equivalent hydrogen abundances and a shade relief map derived from MOLA topography. Mass percents of water were determined from epithermal neutron counting rates using the Neutron Spectrometer aboard Mars Odyssey between February 2002 and April 2003. Credit: Los Alamos


The maps detail the distribution of water-equivalent hydrogen as revealed by Los Alamos National Laboratory-developed instruments aboard NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft. In a talk at the Sixth International Conference on Mars at the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, Los Alamos space scientist Bill Feldman and coworkers offered current estimates of the total amount of water stored near the Martian surface.

For more than a year, Los Alamos' neutron spectrometer has been carefully mapping the hydrogen content of the planet's surface by measuring changes in neutrons given off by soil, an indicator of hydrogen likely in the form of water-ice.

"The new pictures are just breathtaking, the water-equivalent hydrogen follows the geographic features beautifully," said Feldman. "There's a lane of hydrogen-rich material following the western slopes of the biggest volcanoes in the solar system, a maximum reading sits right on Elysium mons, and another maximum is in the deepest canyon in the solar system."

The new maps combine images from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) on the Mars Global Surveyor with Mars Odyssey spectrometer data through more than half a Martian year of 687 Earth days. From about 55 degrees latitude to the poles, Mars boasts extensive deposits of soils that are rich in water-ice, bearing an average of 50 percent water by mass. In other words, Feldman said, a typical pound of soil scooped up in those polar regions would yield an average of half a pound of water if it were heated in an oven.

The tell-tale traces of hydrogen, and therefore the presence of hydrated minerals, also are found in lower concentrations closer to Mars' equator, ranging from two to 10 percent water by mass. Surprisingly, two large areas, one within Arabia Terra, the 1,900-mile-wide Martian desert, and another on the opposite side of the planet, show indications of relatively large concentrations of sub-surface hydrogen.

Scientists are attracted to two possible theories of how all that water got into the Martian soils and rocks. [etc]
Full article, and maps, here.
 

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No "White Cliffs of Dover"...
After a decades-long quest, scientists analyzing data from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft have at last found critical evidence the spacecraft's infrared spectrometer instrument was built to search for: the presence of water-related carbonate minerals on the surface of Mars.

However, the discovery also potentially contradicts what scientists had hoped to prove: the past existence of large bodies of liquid water on Mars, such as oceans. How this discovery relates to the possibility of ephemeral lakes on Mars is not known at this time.

The thermal emission spectrometer on Global Surveyor found no detectable carbonate signature in surface materials at scales ranging from three to 10 kilometers (two to six miles) during its six-year Mars mapping mission. However, the sensitive instrument has detected the mineral's ubiquitous presence in martian dust in quantities between two and five percent. Planetary geologists Timothy Glotch Dr. Joshua Bandfield, and Dr. Philip Christensen of Arizona State University, Tempe, analyze the data from dust-covered areas of Mars in a report to be published Aug. 22 in the journal Science.

"We have finally found carbonate, but we've only found trace amounts in dust, not in the form of outcroppings as originally suspected. This shows that the thermal emission spectrometer can see carbonates -- if they are there - and that carbonates can exist on the surface today," said Christensen, principal investigator for the instrument.

"We believe that the trace amounts that we see probably did not come from marine deposits derived from ancient martian oceans, but from the atmosphere interacting directly with dust," Christensen said. "Tiny amounts of water in Mars' atmosphere can interact with the ubiquitous dust to form the small amounts of carbonate that we see. This seems to be the result of a thin atmosphere interacting with dust, not oceans interacting with the big, thick atmosphere that many people have thought once existed there."

"What we don't see is massive regional concentrations of carbonates, like limestone," said Bandfield, who spent a year refining the techniques that allowed the group to separate carbonate's distinctive infrared signature from the spectrometer's extensive database of infrared spectra, despite the mineral's low concentrations and the masking effects of the martian atmosphere.

"We're not seeing the white cliffs of Dover or anything like that," he said. "We're not seeing high concentrations, we're just seeing ubiquitously low levels. Wherever we see the dust, we see the signature that is due to the carbonate."

Because there are known to be deposits of frozen water on Mars, the findings have important implications for Mars' past climate history.

"This really points to a cold, frozen, icy Mars that has always been that way, as opposed to a warm, humid, ocean-bearing Mars sometime in the past," said Christensen. "People have argued that early in Mars history, maybe the climate was warmer and oceans may have formed and produced extensive carbonate rock layers. If that was the case, the rocks formed in those purported oceans should be somewhere."

Although ancient carbonate rock deposits might have been buried by later layers of dust, Christensen pointed out that the global survey found no strong carbonate signatures anywhere on the planet, despite clear evidence of geological processes that have exposed ancient rocks.

Bandfield said that carbonate deposits in dust could be partially responsible for Mars' atmosphere growing even colder, to become as cold, thin and dry as it is today.

"If you store just a couple percent of carbonate in the upper crust, you can easily account for several times the Earth's atmospheric pressure," Bandfield said. "You can store a lot of carbon dioxide in a little bit of rock. If you form enough carbonates, pretty soon your atmosphere goes away. If that happens, you can no longer have liquid water on the surface because you get to the point where liquid water is not stable."

"The significance of these dramatic results may have to wait for the discoveries to be made by the Mars Exploration Rovers in 2004 and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2006 and beyond," stated Dr. Jim Garvin, NASA's lead scientist for Mars exploration. What's important is that we have found carbon-bearing minerals at Mars, which may be linked to the history of liquid water and hence to our quest to understand whether Mars has ever been an abode for life."
 
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