Friday, December 24, 2004

A Puddle of . . . What?

Many of those following the Mars Exploration Rover mission have puzzled over a recent photograph that appears to show a shallow pool of water or mud in the foreground.

The finding is similar to the so-called "Magic Carpet" encountered by Spirit shortly after bouncing to a landing. But whereas the possible moisture at the Spirit landing site appeared to take the form of subsurface mud, the "puddle" viewed by Opportunity looks remarkably like standing water -- a supposed impossibility on a cold, low-pressure world like Mars. So what does the image show?

Possible subsurface water leaking onto the Martian surface.

Although I'm not ruling out water, ice or mud (or some combination thereof), it's likely we're seeing a deposit of fine dust. A shallow film of dust would help explain the puddle's smooth surface texture. On the other hand, recent claims of volcanic activity on Mars, and the relatively high-pressure depths of the Valles Marineris canyon system, supply mechanisms that could spawn short-lived flows. If the Opportunity image does show water, liquid or ice, then we're perhaps incredibly lucky to see it before it could boil away into the atmosphere.

Occam's Razor would suggest we're seeing particulates wafted into place by wind, but our history of discovery on the Red Planet advises against premature conclusions.

Monday, December 20, 2004

A New Image of Cydonia

Malin Space Science Systems has unveiled a new Cydonia image taken by the Mars Global Surveyor. Taken in November, the image has only recently appeared on the Web.

According to MSSS, "The Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) Public Target Request Site began collecting public and science community suggestions for MOC narrow angle imaging on 20 August 2003. Suggested targets are incorporated into the MGS MOC operational database at Malin Space Science Systems. There, they wait until a time in the future when MGS is predicted to pass over the requested site. When the predicted ground track intersects a site of interest, the MOC operations team determines the best way to acquire the requested image, then commands the camera to do so. Several days later, the image is acquired and returned to Earth."

The new Cydonia image is relatively uninteresting, showing various craters, knobs and buttes that litter the controversial region. After a careful viewing, I see none of the oddity that characterizes the Face and anomalies in its vicinity. The two vaguely pyramidal formations look natural and, disappointingly, lack the "starfish" aspect of the City Pyramid and D&M.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Good News, Mars-Watchers

Ultra-sharp, Mars-Bound HiRISE Camera Delivered

"The camera that will take thousands of the sharpest, most detailed pictures of Mars ever produced from an orbiting spacecraft was delivered today for installation on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter."

What will the MRO's camera reveal about anomalous formations such as the Face and D&M Pyramid . . . ?

Friday, December 03, 2004

Mars Was Wet; Now Let's Move On . . .

Conditions on vast plain on Mars could have been suitable for life, Cornell rover scientist Squyres states in special Science issue

"Now a Cornell University-led Mars rover science team reports on the historic journey by the rover Opportunity, which is exploring a vast plain, Meridiani Planum, and concludes with this observation: 'Liquid water was once present intermittently at the martian surface at Meridiani, and at times it saturated the subsurface. Because liquid water is a key prerequisite for life, we infer that conditions at Meridiani may have been habitable for some period of time in martian history.'"

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Martian Bio-Menace?

The threat from life on Mars

"Jeffrey Kargel of the US Geological Survey said that protection of our own planet from alien forms of life requires the assumption that Martian life exists. 'Before proceeding with sample returns or human missions to Mars, we must review measures for planetary biological protection.'"