Martian water: back on again

Paul Raven @ 05-08-2011

I’ve lost count of the number of times that the scientific consensus on whether or not there’s liquid-phase water on Mars has changed, and that’s just within the span of me blogging here at Futurismic (so, six years or thereabouts). But it looks like we just flipped back toward certainty, as images from NASA’s Mars Recon Orbiter show what may well be streams of salt-saturated water flowing down slopes during the Martian equivalent of summer:

More than a thousand dark trails were observed running down some slopes in Mars’s southern hemisphere during warm periods of the year, fading in the autumn.

There are more trails on the warmer, sun-facing parts of the planet, which would be consistent with water that flows in summer and freezes in winter.

Researchers from the University of Arizona said that salty water was the “best explanation” for the markings, which are between half a metre and five metres wide and run for hundreds of metres down some craters.

Although the images do not provide definitive proof of salt water on Mars, scientists claim that temperatures on the sun-facing areas of the planet’s surface would be too warm for frozen carbon dioxide and too cold for pure water.

Science being science, of course, this is merely well-informed speculation based on accumulated evidence, and the boffins are at pains to point out that more research and observation is required before anyone can talk in terms of true certainty.

So I’ll say it again: let’s just go there already.


Plan Of The City: NYC architecture relocates itself to Mars, throws party

Paul Raven @ 03-06-2011

I get a fair few emails in the Futurismic mailbox saying “hey, I did this thing, maybe you’d check it out and blog about it?” Roughly 80% of them are either poorly disguised corporate pitches or stuff that’s just not very good, but every now and again I get something like this: Plan Of The City is an animation by regular reader Joshua Frankel, and it’s really rather wonderful. So consider this your Friday afternoon brain-break; take thirteen minutes to watch the architecture of New York fly itself to Mars, accompanied by some rather moving music. Go.

You can find out more about Plan Of The City and Joshua’s other works; give the guy a bit of attention, why not? Thanks for getting in touch, Mister Frankel. 🙂


More molecules: perchlorates on Mars

Paul Raven @ 07-01-2011

It’s just like buses; you wait for ages, and then two life-molecules-in-space stories come along at once. This one’s a little closer to home than the Saturnian subsystem, though; a discovery by the Phoenix rover in 2008 encouraged scientists to re-evaluate some old Viking data:

Phoenix detected a chlorine-containing chemical called perchlorate at its landing site, near the Martian north pole. The researchers suspected that perchlorate may have produced what Viking found, destroying original soil organics and leaving behind the two chlorinated compounds, chloromethane and dichloromethane.

So the scientists performed a lab experiment. They grabbed some dirt from Chile’s Atacama Desert — widely considered to be a Martian analog environment — and spiked it with perchlorate. Then they heated the mixture up in the lab, just as the Viking landers did on Mars.

Just as with Viking, the researchers found chloromethane and dichloromethane.

“The simplest, most reasonable explanation of the Viking results is that there were organics in the soil, and they were consumed by the perchlorate,” McKay said. “I think it’s pretty convincing.”

Don’t get too excited, though:

The results don’t prove that life exists — or ever existed — on Mars. While organics are associated with life here on Earth, that’s not necessarily the case elsewhere in the solar system, McKay said.

[…]

But the prospect of Martian life may be a bit more likely now, since Viking seemingly found life’s building blocks in the planet’s red dirt more than three decades ago.

Said it before, and I’ll say it again – let’s just go there, properly, and find out for real.


We interrupt this mission to Mars for a word from our sponsors…

Paul Raven @ 04-01-2011

Via Slashdot, here’s a paper at the Journal Of Cosmology (who need to hire a web designer, like, yesterday) that suggests such well-worn corporate PR strategies as sponsorship, “naming rights” and other licensing angles as a great way to finance a manned mission to Mars.

Sound familiar? So it should – Jason Stoddard did something very similar when he made a Mars mission into a reality TV challenge in his story-that-became-a-novel “Winning Mars” (free online versions are available; the book is in the production pipeline at Prime Books at the moment).

In a way, it’s a sad indictment of the post-modern nation state that the only viable funding methods for space exploration are corporate; a mars mission would be a terrible waste of taxes that could be used for more important matters, right?

  • The predicted cost of going to Mars: ~$145 Billion.
  • The cost of the Iraq war thus far: ~$739 Billion. [via MyElvesAreDifferent]

Welcome to Mock Mars, Utah

Paul Raven @ 29-09-2010

Reminiscent of the gang-in-a-can experiment in Russia (I wonder how that worked out in the end?), Wired UK reports briefly on six aspiring Mars missioneers (missionaries?) living in a cylindrical habitat out in the Utah desert to simulate the trials of daily human existence on the surface of the Red Planet, should we ever make it there. There’s another “Mars Analag Research Station” (see what they did there?) in the Canadian Arctic, and the Mars Society – unwilling to wait for beleaguered nation-state space budgets to recover sufficiently (if ever) to send out a manned mission – has plans for another in Iceland.

It strikes me that the obvious flaw with the MARS set-ups and the Russian mission sim linked above is that the participants know that it’s a sim; clomping around in spacesuits and eating spacesnax is all well and good, but if you know that you can remove the helmet or open the hatch in an emergency, you’re not really stress-testing the psychological issues properly. Ballard thought it through (of course), in a short story whose name I am presently unable to recall (or locate in a book, as my Collected Short Stories appears to be on vacation somewhere other than my bookshelves at present); anyone remember the one I’m thinking of? It featured a small (fake) generation ship rather than a Mars station, but the whole cabin-fever psychology thing felt spot-on during a recent re-read (no Suck Fairy damage in that one, though not all of Ballard’s early short stuff fares quite so well)…

Bonus content! Talking of Ballard and space, how’d you fancy seeing some Cold War dreams of space dominion decaying in a post-Soviet junkyard [via SlashDot]? How the mighty have fallen… but before you get too hubristic, that’s not far from the fate the Space Shuttles will suffer as museum pieces. Yesterday’s technological marvels and dream-vehicles are today’s salvage-hunt relics; this is something we’d all do well to remember, but will probably all forget.


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