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NASA Images Suggest Water Still Flows on Mars
JRehling
post Dec 7 2006, 06:47 PM
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A question this raises is how a top-notch exploration could be performed of one of these sites when it is active. What is the shortest possible reaction time?

Obviously, committing extravagant resources buys you something in ability to respond.

Detecting these events when they happen would be one part of the capacity. First, the frequency of the events at different candidate sites should be determined. Then, we could have some number of them on a "watchlist" that are monitored frequently. Imagine an orbiter that circled Mars every two hours, checking 12 suspect locations under its apomars at about 45 south.

Then you'd have a lander stashed in an orbit that would "follow" the orbiter, apomars for apomars, in making similar close approaches to the same locations at a "lag time" that allowed operations on Earth to proceed. Let's say the lag time was one sol.

When a positive observation of a gully flow was made, the lander could arrive one day later and settle right onto the gully path. Perhaps show up in time to see successive flows in successive sols.

In situ analysis alone would be the stuff of scientific gluttony, but a tremendous (and very pricey) combo would also settle a sample-return craft downslope (which would seem to ease engineering constraints if that means reducing the slope), allowing a minirover at the flow site to deliver the goodies to the sample return. More exploration of the areas *upslope* would also be interesting.

Clearly, this would be the ultimate "red meat" of solar system exploration: To deliver a sample of liquid water, or stuff that was immediately prior wet with liquid water, back to earthly labs offers an excellent opportunity to get a Big Answer on astrobiology and/or one heck of a giant leap into understanding where ELSE you might have to look in case the sample were (as I bet it would be, FWIW) sterile.

It would also be a hell of an expensive program, with many points of failure, and perhaps too subject to chance if these flows are too rare for the above architecture to produce a likely flow detection before the life of the orbiting elements gives out. Obviously, two-way planetary protection concerns would require superlative measures. And just doing this at all would cost a lot more than any generic sample return mission.

Still, if we don't do this, sooner or later, we've left a stone unturned. We have to do this, eventually.

I think when the MERs were launched we knew far too little about Mars to commit serious resources to lander missions. This event, IMO, changes that. Now we know something very big. We're not going to get a clearer "go ahead" signal than this.
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climber
post Dec 7 2006, 06:57 PM
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Does somebody know the altitude of geo...oups Marsostationary orbit ? Could be a good place to look for changes with adequate cameras and software. Phobos could be a good place too.


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Guest_AlexBlackwell_*
post Dec 7 2006, 07:00 PM
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QUOTE (climber @ Dec 7 2006, 08:57 AM) *
Does somebody know the altitude of geo...oups Marsostationary orbit ? Could be a good place to look for changes with adequate cameras and software. Phobos could be a good place too.

I'll have to double check but I think it's ~17,000 km.
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Guest_PhilCo126_*
post Dec 7 2006, 07:26 PM
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This was all over the news and immediately the suggestion was given that it might be a ‘dust-flow’ instead of ‘water-flow’ … mad.gif

Stu, You’re so right… we have been waiting over 30 years for this … mars.gif
By The Way where the artist impression from (is it by Pat Rawlings)?

My favorite photo for now is:
http://www.msss.com/mars_images/moc/2006/1...ater_mosaic.gif

Will it now be easier to decide where to land the first human crew ? wink.gif
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nprev
post Dec 7 2006, 07:33 PM
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QUOTE (ElkGroveDan @ Dec 7 2006, 08:14 AM) *
And if you go in the winter, the conditions will be remarkably similar to Mars (with -50F not being uncommon in Butte). There's also a very large crater there. rolleyes.gif


In fact, the "crater" is full of nasty acidic heavy-metal enriched water that supports an ecosystem:

http://www.mtech.edu/math_science/biology/...iodiversity.htm

...and, I'll personally vouch for the -50F winter temps...walking to school in that wasn't fun. Fortunately, it was only uphill one way... rolleyes.gif


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JRehling
post Dec 7 2006, 08:14 PM
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QUOTE (AlexBlackwell @ Dec 7 2006, 11:00 AM) *
I'll have to double check but I think it's ~17,000 km.


That is correct. Pretty high up to get high-resolution images. Also, these events have been on slopes facing away from the Sun, which means that a equatorial vantage point would be less than ideal.
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Guest_AlexBlackwell_*
post Dec 7 2006, 08:15 PM
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I forgot to post these yesterday but below are a few related stories:

news@Nature.com
Scientific American.com
Astronomy
Sky & Telescope
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Guest_AlexBlackwell_*
post Dec 7 2006, 08:40 PM
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I see that Jim Bell had a nit to pick. biggrin.gif
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climber
post Dec 7 2006, 08:49 PM
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QUOTE (JRehling @ Dec 7 2006, 09:14 PM) *
That is correct. Pretty high up to get high-resolution images. Also, these events have been on slopes facing away from the Sun, which means that a equatorial vantage point would be less than ideal.

It depends the hour you take the pictures! You're Marsostationary not Sunstationary biggrin.gif
But you're right it's very far


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gpurcell
post Dec 7 2006, 09:56 PM
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Thanks, aldo. I had a dim memory that there was a restriction for the special regions, but I wasn't sure what it was.
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Guest_AlexBlackwell_*
post Dec 7 2006, 10:12 PM
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QUOTE (AlexBlackwell @ Dec 6 2006, 12:33 PM) *
I believe the links below won't go active until tomorrow, unless one has special access during the embargo. In any event, here are the references to the paper and a related news article in the same issue:

Present-Day Impact Cratering Rate and Contemporary Gully Activity on Mars
Michael C. Malin, Kenneth S. Edgett, Liliya V. Posiolova, Shawn M. McColley, and Eldar Z. Noe Dobrea
Science 314, 1573-1577 (2006)
Abstract
Full Text
Supporting Online Material

Richard Kerr's accompanying "News of the Week" article: "Mars Orbiter's Swan Song: The Red Planet Is A-Changin'"

For those with regular online access to Science, the articles are now available for download.
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ustrax
post Dec 7 2006, 10:33 PM
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After Mr. Bell correction some correction is needed...:

QUOTE (ustrax @ Dec 7 2006, 03:00 PM) *
Looking through this image there are some lighter layers being disrupted by the mouvement (in blue).
Can they influence in the colour (tone!) of the material deposited at the end of the flow?...
If you look there's a first stage where the rush excavates but then, finding one of this layers (a), maybe because it's force has lost strenght, is no longer capable of "breaking" it and it jumps over, running now only over the surface...Then this second stage white (bright toned!) flow looks like is loosening power again untill finds another bright layer ( B ) and it ceases a short after this and there's no other under...

Original image


What I'm trying to say is that, on this particular image seems to me like this brighter layers have an important role on the tone of the flow...
What can that material be (other hypothesis than salt...)?


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SteveM
post Dec 7 2006, 10:44 PM
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Here's Steve Squyre's comment on Life on Mars from his Open University Talk. I transcribed it from the audio file.

Steve (the other Steve, that is. smile.gif )

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Steve Squyres Lecture at CEPSAR (Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space, & Astronomical Research), The Open University, 7 November 2006

Time: 65:12

Questions:

Stewart Hirst(?): After your 100– 1012 Sols on Mars are you more or less optimistic in finding evidence of life– or not you, but that evidence of life will be found on Mars?

SS: Oh, it’s hard to say. I think that what this has shown us is that early interpretations, going back as far as Mariner 9, that liquid water has been present below the surface and at the surface of Mars were correct. There has been water on Mars; that’s been believed since we first saw valleys in the Mariner 9 images and I think our data show that but you can go much more beyond just saying yeah, there was water on Mars.
Umm.
At these locations – particularly at the Opportunity site, which is, I guess, the more favorable of the two – Uh, as I said there are a number of things here that would be really I think very daunting for life. The acidity, the highly oxidizing character, the highly saline environment. Now you can go to very acidic, very oxidizing, very saline environments on Earth and they’re teaming with life, they’re teaming with microbes. You can find bugs that are perfectly happy at a PH of one: acidophiles. But those are organisms that developed first under more neutral, more normal if you will, conditions and then managed to find a way to evolve into that very challenging ecological niche. If you go to one of these acidophiles, and you measure the PH of their environment, the PH outside of their cell membrane is one and the PH inside is seven. OK and they have wonderful ion pumps across their cell membrane keeps them at a neutral PH inside. Umm. So while life can exist in that kind of environment, whether or not it can get started in that environment is another question.

Now one thing you’ve got to keep in mind is that these two places are just two little pin pricks on the surface of an incredibly diverse and complicated planet. For example, the Omega instrument on the Mars Express, the European Mars Express mission, French instrument, and also now the CRISM instrument on MRO have both detected philosyllicates, clay minerals, at some locations on Mars that may be indicative of more neutral PH at some point. Umm so there are no– It’s a complicated story that’s still evolving. There are a number of places where we see both morphological and mineralogical evidence for water on the surface of Mars. In terms of the habitability, yeah it was habitable but it was a challenge. I think we’ve still got a lot of work to do. I think what we need to do is send instruments like Colin [Pillinger]’s instrument package to the surface of Mars and look for organics and I think we need to bring some rocks back.

68:12

This post has been edited by Steve: Dec 7 2006, 10:55 PM
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Guest_AlexBlackwell_*
post Dec 8 2006, 12:16 AM
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QUOTE (JRehling @ Dec 7 2006, 08:47 AM) *
A question this raises is how a top-notch exploration could be performed of one of these sites when it is active. What is the shortest possible reaction time?

Instead of waiting for a site to become active and then dropping a probe/lander, I was thinking of the opposite. "Seed" gully sites with penetrators or Netlander-type packages, and then cue orbital assets when something (e.g., seismic activity, water vapor, etc.) is detected.
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Guest_AlexBlackwell_*
post Dec 8 2006, 12:20 AM
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QUOTE (AlexBlackwell @ Dec 7 2006, 12:12 PM) *
For those with regular online access to Science, the articles are now available for download.

I've read the paper, which was interesting and, of course, provided the hard numbers and references in "Science-ese." I have to say, though, that most, if not all, of the information was provided via the MSSS web pages.

This post has been edited by AlexBlackwell: Dec 8 2006, 12:21 AM
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