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NASA Announces Discovery of Salty Water On Mars ... Maybe

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the why-don't-they-just-taste-it? dept.

Mars 204

Today's promised mystery announcement from NASA has finally been made: dotancohen writes "A NASA orbiter has found possible evidence for water on the surface of Mars that flows seasonally. The water likely would be salty, in keeping with the salty Martian environment." Adds an anonymous reader: "Dark, finger-like features appear and extend down some Martian slopes during late spring through summer, fade in winter, and return during the next spring, NASA says, and repeated observations have tracked the seasonal changes in these recurring features on several steep slopes in the middle latitudes of Mars' southern hemisphere." You can find more on the claimed find at NASA TV.

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Salty water seeping out of Mars in the summertime? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36989778)

Mars Sweat?

Re:Salty water seeping out of Mars in the summerti (3, Funny)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36989810)

Please. Marspiration.

Re:Salty water seeping out of Mars in the summerti (3, Funny)

wsxyz (543068) | more than 3 years ago | (#36989840)

Mars doesn't sweat. It glows.

Re:Salty water seeping out of Mars in the summerti (1)

WelshRarebit (1595637) | more than 3 years ago | (#36989882)

Schweaty balls of Mars.

Re:Salty water seeping out of Mars in the summerti (5, Informative)

madhatter256 (443326) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990012)

Something like that.... It could be briny salt water or something else...

Lisa Pratt used the example of putting a bottle of soda in the freezer to a reporter asking questions.... Before soda completely freezes, the bottle of soda forms an ice made of pure water and it is surrounded by a concentrated solution of sugars and syrup that is super sweet still in liquid form. A similar freezing process is believed to be happening in Mars, where they think it is a briny solution that is seeping out of the surface from the underground ice water as that solution has yet to freeze compared to ice water.

It's pretty cool stuff. If there are seasonal cycles like this in the subsurface of Mars, then it is most likely that there are some extreme microbes in there that feed off of this solution... They say that if earth had no seasons, then there would be very little diversity in life and this finding shows there are seasonal cycles that might possibly support life.

And halobacteria? [Re:Salty water seeping out] (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36990096)

Something like that.... It could be briny salt water or something else...

If there's water, even if it's salty, there are likely bacteria-- there are on Earth:
http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/abs/10.1089/153110701753198927 [liebertonline.com]

Figures (1)

CurryCamel (2265886) | more than 3 years ago | (#36989780)

I would turn green too if all I had is salty water.

Tasty (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36989786)

Let's make some Ice Cream.

frosty piss (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36989788)

yes yes ??

George Harrison? (2)

KillaBeave (1037250) | more than 3 years ago | (#36989820)

While Mars Fissures gently weep?

...

*ducks

Re:George Harrison? (1)

shoehornjob (1632387) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990534)

+1 parent. Sorry spent my points earlier today.

Pictures of the cycle? (2)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36989858)

What the website has [nasa.gov] is a single sequence. I don't see any cyclic activity. It's also oddly widespread, almost stringy, as though the flow is considerable and the scale of the picture is much bigger than it appears (not unlikely, and given they added no scale information it's almost useless as science).

Re:Pictures of the cycle? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36989910)

How about a video?

http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/videogallery/index.html?collection_id=14483&media_id=104892521&module=homepage

Re:Pictures of the cycle? (1)

darkgrayknight (1679662) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990448)

thanks +1, if I had mod points. That does show a cycle and you at least get an idea of scale compared to the whole planet.

Re:Pictures of the cycle? (1)

Captain Hook (923766) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990478)

The blurb associated with the sequence says the dark lines which grow and then fade are between 0.5 and 5 yards wide. So I guess the ridge running bottom left to top right is about 200-400 yards long (extremely rough guess)

how long until they announce (0)

a2wflc (705508) | more than 3 years ago | (#36989870)

How long until they announce that they may have found possible evidence that the water could contain an arsenic-based life form. The next time they feel left out and want attention I'd guess.

Re:how long until they announce (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36990124)

Ready the Pert Plus and a firetruck!

Sorry, I had to. Also, I don't blame you if you don't get it - I remember the movie but even I don't remember the title myself...

Re:how long until they announce (1)

randizzle3000 (1276900) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990618)

I think you meant Head and Shoulders...selenium or something, right?

Re:how long until they announce (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36990644)

Evolution?

civilisation is collapsing (-1, Troll)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36989872)

But guys guys there might be salty water on Mars!

I remember, decades ago, caring about this sort of stuff. Now I realise that it's just another way of appropriating resources to have fun while others suffer.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (3, Insightful)

dyingtolive (1393037) | more than 3 years ago | (#36989948)

That's a pretty bitter way of looking at it. I'd much rather see this kind of 'appropriating resources to have fun while others suffer' than the kind we usually have to look at.

But on the other hand, this is the age of hate, so please, cut loose.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (-1, Troll)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36989962)

Or does a more subtle lie prolong suffering? It's not clear cut.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36990000)

No, I'm pretty sure you're just introverted and bitter.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (-1, Troll)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990060)

Bitter that resources are being diverted away from saving lives? Well, I may think that it is wrong. I'm not sure it's relevant whether I'm bitter.

Human suffering would be reduced right now if we stop wasting time and money on this sort of stuff. It's a simple fact. Clever people choose to work on this sort of shit when they could be looking at how to stop people from dying, and how in general to stop situations where humans lack basic resources. All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36990146)

If we don't get off this rock, and I mean a sustainable colony somewhere out there, everyone is going to die.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (1)

Oakey (311319) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990294)

So your solution to these problems is trying to 'stop people dying' and thus ensuring an ever increasing human population, then you go on to moan about lack of resources!

You do realise the space race has led to many, many discoveries that have helped mankind?

Re:civilisation is collapsing (1)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990358)

So your solution to these problems is trying to 'stop people dying' and thus ensuring an ever increasing human population, then you go on to moan about lack of resources!

Do people spontaneously and involuntarily give birth just through staying alive for longer?

You do realise the space race has led to many, many discoveries that have helped mankind?

You do realise that the space race refers to something which hasn't happened for 20 years (30 if you discount what happened under Reagan)? NASA now is nothing like NASA 40 years ago.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (0)

smelch (1988698) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990616)

Do people want to live in a world where they can't even dream? Where they have to sign a registry and wait for the next open slot to have a child? Ask the people suffering if they love life. If they do, then hey, good enough. Why do we have to make everybody's life better at the expense of our own? If they don't love life, then why haven't they killed themselves? Hope for things to get better? Well destroying hope is a good way to make people not want to live, isn't it?

You're a terrible human with the shittiest outlook on life, because you're also a hypocrit, as I'm sure you haven't sold your house and clothes and lowered your lifestyle to barely surviving so you can help other countries with the resources you can obtain here. So fuck off, we're all going to die. Somebody should enjoy themselves, somebody should be comfortable, and somebody should be able to achieve a dream instead of all of us living a life of sacrifice trying to stop the inevitable doom that threatens us all.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (1)

hamburgler007 (1420537) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990322)

Right, because it is not like we haven't invented any new technology along the way that we use today.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990514)

What a moron. How in hell is a clever geologist, astrophysicist, or aerospace engineer supposed to help "stop people from dying"?

Do you go to lawyers' offices and criticize them for not all becoming doctors too? Because we spend far, far more on lawyers in this country than we spend on unmanned space missions.

You talk about lacking resources, but that's exactly what there is in space, in great abundance; the only problem is getting to it economically. Even better, unlike here, harvesting resources in space doesn't cause massive environmental and ecological destruction.

Finally, what good is it if everyone becomes a doctor, when an asteroid comes and wipes us all out? The dinosaurs learned first-hand why it was a bad idea to not invest in a space program.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (1)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990590)

So what you're saying is that it's OK to behave like a lawyer as long as there are lawyers?

We are not lacking resources on earth. We just fail to apply science to distribute them properly and to educate on birth control.

There is not a substantial risk of a large asteroid coming and wiping us out in the near future. We are far more likely to be wiped out by ourselves by continuing our current approach of competitive greed and resource squandering. Get your priorities straight.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (1)

darkgrayknight (1679662) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990538)

There is potential that resources elsewhere in our solar system could be helpful to all of us; though, I do agree that saving lives here is of the greater importance.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (3, Insightful)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990718)

But your premise assumes that those people, and those funds, allocated to "this sort of stuff" would instead go to those who are suffering. That's not a safe assumption.

First, you're assuming that someone who is "clever" at astronomical research could also be clever at food production, medicine, or other fields. I doubt that is the case. I love astronomy, aviation and physics, but I absolutely sucked in high school and college at chemistry and biology because I wasn't motivated to study those things. If you are good enough in your field to be a literal rocket scientist, I would wager that in almost every case, it's not because you are simply brighter than those who didn't make the cut; rather, it's because you wanted it more than those who didn't make the cut, and therefore you pushed harder to achieve that goal. That does NOT necessarily imply that you have the necessary motivation to make an impact in other scientific fields.

Second, even if the money went to aid rather than science and the best scientists applied themselves to reducing human suffering instead of space exploration, I'm not convinced that that would solve the problem. Why? Because, IMHO, most human suffering in the world is our own fault. In the '90s, the U.N. tried to bring food and medical aid to people who were suffering in Somalia. Very little aid reached the people who needed it. That wasn't because those with an abundance (i.e., the U.S., Canada, Europe, etc.) didn't provide enough aid. Food was left to rot in Somalia, while people were starving. The problem was that Somalia -- like much of Africa throughout my lifetime -- was struggling with complete anarchy. The warloads who ran the country were stealing the aid and giving it to their supporters while everybody else was dying. The U.N. tried to come in and restore order (ever see the movie "Black Hawk Down"? I highly recommend it) but basically got their butts kicked. Mankind's propensity for inhumanity and violence is a much, much more important cause of human suffering than anything nature can throw at us. Money and science aren't the answer for that problem; eliminating greed and selfishness is the solution, and good luck with that.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (1)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990766)

it's because you wanted it more than those who didn't make the cut

This is bullshit '80s everyone-can-do-it fantasy. Some people are smarter and/or have more opportunities than others - life's unfair like that.

eliminating greed and selfishness is the solution, and good luck with that.

Completely agree. The Second World War brought welfare states to various Western European countries which reduced suffering dramatically and demonstrated how it can be done. Unfortunately, the process has been reversed since the '80s/'90s.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (2)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990042)

It is another way of appropriating resources, but not just another way. Looked at over the course of history, science gives the best return on the dollar of any investment. And those benefits accrue to society as a whole, even the poorest. It's hard to complain about misappropriation of resources to science when science is the only reason we're able to support the number of people we have on this planet. If you want to avoid the malthusian catastrophe, we have to invest in this kind of research.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (1)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990134)

Science is a method, not an act. Just because some scientific endeavours have proven useful it does not mean that every act of research using the scientific method is worthwhile. And while we may have been limited by lack of understanding of physical processes one hundred years ago, this is not what is holding humanity back today. We have solved the hard physical/biological/environmental science required for the vast majority of humans currently on this earth to lead a comfortable life - we simply refuse to apply it. Instead we continue treating science as if it were either a dalliance for the gifted or a tool for the powerful.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990540)

And what's your suggestion for fixing this? Have all the scientists go into politics instead? Yeah, I'm sure they'd do great in the elections.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (1)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990628)

I shan't blow my own trumpet, but to give examples from my cousins: one's in demography and another is an agricultural engineer.

So... food, disease control, resource allocation, that sort of thing. Lots of fertile ground.

Re:civilisation is collapsing- no it isn't (5, Insightful)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990104)

I remember, decades ago, caring about this sort of stuff. Now I realise that it's just another way of appropriating resources to have fun while others suffer.

Overtime, the amount of suffering has gone down by many metrics. For example, in most of the developing world, infant mortality now is much less than it was 50 years ago. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infant_mortality [wikipedia.org] The infant mortality rate of the planet as a whole has gone down by a factor of about 3 compared to the rate in the 1950s. The world's level of literacy is also increasing. Average lifespan has also gone up in the developing world. More importantly, that lifespan increase has occurred even if one just looks at the average lifespan of people who survive 3 years of age (this helps deal with most of the infant mortality issue). So no, civilization isn't collapsing. In fact, civilization is doing quite well.

Sure there are things we can do in the here and now to help people directly, like give more money to help deal with malaria and the like. If you want to really care about your own money going to optimal causes, a good thing to look at is Givewell http://www.givewell.org/ [givewell.org] which identifies efficient, underfunded charities that are doing helpful work, especially in the developing world.

But, let's address your final claim that this is having fun while others suffer. That's simply not accurate and is missing the point. When the Apollo moon landings happened, people in poor areas crowded around the few radios they had to listen in. Why? Because as badly off as they were, they understood that some things really are achievements for humanity as a whole. In the long run, we're going to need to colonize space. And we'll need to be ready for it. Moreover, we have a real reason to figure out how common life is- for some reason there's almost no intelligent life out there. We need to figure out, for the good of humanity as a whole, if the Great Filter preventing the rise of intelligent civilizations http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_filter [wikipedia.org] is ahead of us or behind us. I suspect that most of it is behind us, but if there's any in front of us, it needs to appear before space travel becomes cheap or easy. The more we know about how common life is, what kinds of life evolve, and other related issues, the better understanding we get of whether we need to be prepared for possible filtration up ahead. This is for the good of humanity as a whole.

Re:civilisation is collapsing- no it isn't (0)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990218)

When the Apollo moon landings happened, people in poor areas crowded around the few radios they had to listen in. Why? Because as badly off as they were, they understood that some things really are achievements for humanity as a whole

Because you don't have to be rich to be taken in by marketing. And just because those Hollywoodesque videos create a montage of peoples from all cultures huddling round their radios/televisions in awe at this achievement, it doesn't mean the majority of people either listened or cared.

When I think about people gathered round the AV device I think about the coronation of Elizabeth II: it was a bit of post-war fantasy and a chance to play with a new toy. It's always possible to temporarily lift collective spirits with a bit of fantasy - organised religion's known that for longer than NASA - but it's hardly an effective way to solve problems.

In the long run, we're going to need to colonize space.

Or we could just not continue fucking up and overpopulating our current home.

If you're talking about the very long run and panicking about star death, there is no hurry (and your sense of priority is absurd). We can work on helping people here now first.

Re:civilisation is collapsing- no it isn't (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36990308)

Or we could just not continue fucking up and overpopulating our current home.

Yeah, that's really going to help when another Chicxulub-sized rock comes by. T-Rex didn't go extinct from overpopulation and pollution, dude.

Re:civilisation is collapsing- no it isn't (1)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990336)

Again, priorities. Why are you worrying about what might happen at some point in a few hundreds of thousands of years rather than people suffering right now who could be helped by much application of much simpler and well-understood science?

Re:civilisation is collapsing- no it isn't (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36990382)

Because the stakes are higher. It could happen in a few hundred years or a few years; there are too many objects out there to reliably track them all. It might not even be a meteor: if Yellowstone or another supervolcano goes up we're equally screwed. Or, yeah, it could be us shitting where we eat with a nuclear war or a manmade supervirus or some other catastrophe.

The point is that all of our eggs are in one basket. It's a comfortable basket, it's the one we were born in. But we've got to spread out or we're incredibly vulnerable.

Re:civilisation is collapsing- no it isn't (1)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990678)

The universe is all one basket.

Besides, it doesn't matter whether our species survives: our species does not collectively feel or think or suffer like some supernatural entity and we would do well to detach ourselves from such quasi-religion. What matters is the known and well-understood experience of existing individuals living in various conditions.

Re:civilisation is collapsing- no it isn't (1)

Oakey (311319) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990346)

Wait wait, I just responded to your previous post where you complained about these scientists not saving peoples lives, now you're complaining about overpopulation?

Re:civilisation is collapsing- no it isn't (1)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990388)

Overpopulation is caused (from a straight causal viewpoint and when considering a moral solution) by too many births, not too few deaths.

Re:civilisation is collapsing- no it isn't (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36990436)

You realize that helping people in the manner you're concerned about contributes to "fucking up and overpopulating our current home", right? Right?

Re:civilisation is collapsing- no it isn't (1)

tntguy (516721) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990626)

Most nerds will never understand this...it's a lot easier to colonize another planet than it is to get people to stop fucking.

Re:civilisation is collapsing- no it isn't (1)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990754)

Fucking is not the same as having children.

Some countries have done very well at educating people to reduce the native birth rate.

But we're doing really bad at educating the rest. (Some might say it's intentional, as overpopulation implies desperation implies cheap labour. What do you say?)

Re:civilisation is collapsing- no it isn't (1)

TheSync (5291) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990320)

Indeed, the world is getting richer. Since 2000, 28 countries [guardian.co.uk] have moved from "poor" to "middle income".

The percent of people in the world living on less than $1.25 a day has fell from 52% to 26% between 1981 and 2005. In China alone, 600 million people have left the under $1.25 per day income line during that period.

The best thing you can do to help the poor people of the planet is to buy something. It is likely that is was either built by people poorer than you, or that at least the raw materials were mined or processed by people poorer than you, and they are benefiting from your commerce, and you are benefitting as well.

The second best thing you can do is to fully appreciate free market capitalism and espouse it publicly, because the poorest countries are those with the least economic freedom [repec.org] and most government regulation of the economy.

Re:civilisation is collapsing- no it isn't (1)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990554)

Oh, I'm sorry, I should have written "Western civilisation" in the sense of the civilisation including NASA - predominantly EU/USA. The planet (fortunately) still has more than one civilisation.

Money is a daft way to measure quality of life. What has to be done to obtain that money? What is that money worth (now and over time)? What freedoms are available with that money? Under what circumstances might those freedoms be taken away? I couldn't give a damn how much money I have: what I want is to be productive without having to endure personal risk.

If you want to measure whether your system is working, you ask: are you happy? Predictably, the mixed economies which have tried to balance known approaches tend to be the happiest. This is somewhat reassuring when you consider that both extremes of the scale - US and Soviet - pound their citizens with propaganda.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990176)

Now I realise that it's just another way of appropriating resources to have fun while others suffer.

Not unlike posting on slashdot, actually.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (0)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990246)

Well, advice is the smallest current coin. I think the satisfied demands of the average Slashdot poster are comparatively minimal, and their empty promises less gargantuan.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36990526)

"I couldn't help but notice your pain."

--Sybok

Re:civilisation is collapsing (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990630)

YASHI - Yet Another Short Sight Individual.

How about all the people that got paid? what about all the companies that will be making new products from the tech for this probe. Oh wait, that's10 years down the road and as such well beyond your ability to grasp.

More people will end up benefiting from this then that same money could help if you gave it to the needy' whomever you happen to consider.

Salt water on Mars; this is fucking huge.

Re:civilisation is collapsing (1)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990734)

How about all the people that got paid? what about all the companies that will be making new products from the tech for this probe. Oh wait, that's10 years down the road and as such well beyond your ability to grasp.

If "people will get paid" is a justification for resource allocation to any given endeavour then why not employ as many people as you can to build endless paper chains?

You will not get 4 knocks! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36989892)

For the obvious Doctor Who reference :)

Translated (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36989898)

All those features that looked like seasonal water erosion that we said weren't might be after all. Dogma dies the death of a thousand cuts. Dogma has been liquid water can't survive in the Martian atmosphere. Now they say maybe it can if it's salty enough. They begrudgingly admitted that years ago so there's really no news here. What's the story really? "We might be wrong but we aren't willing to admit it yet." Hardly breaking news since most of this has been known for years.

Re:Translated (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990160)

Still, it's a big piece of evidence of current hydrological activity on Mars. Not the only piece, mind you, but it makes the argument stronger that Mars may be able to sustain some sort of life.

Do they happen right above water melt temps? (2)

mrflash818 (226638) | more than 3 years ago | (#36989902)

Still need to research and read all the articles, but would be cool to correlate the temperature and melt events.

Re:Do they happen right above water melt temps? (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 3 years ago | (#36989954)

Still need to research and read all the articles, but would be cool to correlate the temperature and melt events.

What would be cool is a mission to Mars with a man, a shovel, and a box of Ziploc bags.

Drake Equation (1)

ThorGod (456163) | more than 3 years ago | (#36989918)

As I asked in the earlier post: http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2357996&cid=36953978

Does anyone remember if Drake assumed one or two habitable planets per planetary system (like ours)?

I have to think the signs point toward more, not less, life in the universe.

Re:Drake Equation (1)

ThorGod (456163) | more than 3 years ago | (#36989926)

err, I posted the wrong link above: http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2364470&cid=36989158

Sorry.

Re:Drake Equation (3, Interesting)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990014)

Well, Drake didn't assume much. The Drake equation is ultimately not about calculating the amount of life in the universe, but - at least at the current stage of knowledge - about providing a framework for collecting and thinking about what parameters might influence the amount of life in the universe.

Re:Drake Equation (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990162)

Drake [wikipedia.org] and his colleagues assumed two planets per star developing life.

Important for two reasons (5, Interesting)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 3 years ago | (#36989930)

This is important for two reasons. The first reason this is important is the obvious issue that the presence of liquid water makes the existence of life a lot more likely. It seems that conditions for life are really surprisingly common. What we still don't know is how likely life is to form in the first place and how easily it travels. There is speculation about panspermia and life on Earth having come from Mars on meteorites but the orbital mechanics make that direction a lot more likely than from Earth to the Mars.

The second reason this is important is that in the long-run colonization and exploration of Mars will be a lot easier if water is easily available. The presence of water will be directly helpful for some plans aside from directly helping humans. For example, the Mars Direct plan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Direct [wikipedia.org] involves exploratory missions to Mars where some of the rocket fuel for the return is methane made on the surface. Current versions of that plan call for bringing the necessary hydrogen to Mars. This isn't too bad since hydrogen is only a small fraction of methane by mass. But if we could split the water using electrolysis and get the hydrogen directly from that that would potentially further reduce the amount of mass needed to be launched from Earth. Unfortunately, the water here seems to be not so common that one could actually rely on this. This is probably non-viable unless one had much better maps of where the water was, how deep it normally was, the exact locations of the water, detailed knowledge of what salts were making the water briny and any other major chemical contaminants which could make electrolysis machinery unhappy. So overall, this is unlikely to impact missions to Mars in that direct a way.

Re:Important for two reasons (0)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990098)

The second reason this is important is that in the long-run colonization and exploration of Mars will be a lot easier if water is easily available

Exploration is best done by unmanned craft, and they don't need any water.

Re:Important for two reasons (5, Insightful)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990166)

Yes, but at some point, you want actual boots on the ground. If the goals of space travel do not include eventually getting humans off this rock, well, then not only is the interest in it going to be near zero, but the point as well.

Unmanned craft can do some of the best science, including helping us figure out where to land the boots.

Re:Important for two reasons (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990280)

The point of space travel is that it is interesting. If we find proof of life on Mars, and manage to get a sample back on earth for study, I would be thrilled, and I would be happy to pay my share for the expenses.

As far as actual boots on Mars, I think that's a pretty pointless endeavor. It's just an empty rock, orders of magnitude harsher than the most desolate place on earth. Why the hell would you want to be there ?

Re:Important for two reasons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36990332)

As far as actual boots on Mars, I think that's a pretty pointless endeavor. It's just an empty rock, orders of magnitude harsher than the most desolate place on earth. Why the hell would you want to be there ?

Well, we went to the moon. Do you find that to have been an entirely pointless endeavor?

Re:Important for two reasons (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990414)

Do you find that to have been an entirely pointless endeavor?

Pretty much. It was a nice demonstration what we once could do, but that's about it. Do you even wonder why we stopped doing it ?

Re:Important for two reasons (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990468)

The point of space travel is that it is interesting.

Frankly, watching toy robots driving around Mars veeeery slowly isn't really all that interesting.

Ditto any other unmanned mission. Some of them are useful, occasionally you get a neat picture to put on your desktop, mostly they're just too boring to even bother keeping up with.

As far as actual boots on Mars, I think that's a pretty pointless endeavor. It's just an empty rock, orders of magnitude harsher than the most desolate place on earth. Why the hell would you want to be there ?

If noone is ever going to go there, why the hell waste time sending rovers there? There's nothing to learn there that matters to much of anyone on Earth, aside from a few PhD candidates.

As they used to say back in the day (and I guess will be doing again soon) "How will it help us feed children in Somalia?"

Re:Important for two reasons (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990648)

Frankly, watching toy robots driving around Mars veeeery slowly isn't really all that interesting.

The robots have accomplished more than humans did in the same time. You don't have to watch them drive. You can do something else, and return in a few year's time to see the results.

There's nothing to learn there that matters to much of anyone on Earth, aside from a few PhD candidates.

I'm not a PhD candidate, and I enjoy reading about the stuff they've discovered. Many other people do the same thing. It costs less than football, and it's more fun to watch.

"How will it help us feed children in Somalia?"

You could ask the same thing about manned travel to Mars.

Re:Important for two reasons (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990488)

It's just an empty rock, orders of magnitude harsher than the most desolate place on earth. Why the hell would you want to be there ?

Why do we have manned research stations in Antarctica? After all, it's just one huge snow desert.

Re:Important for two reasons (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990566)

Because it's cheaper/easier to have manned research in Antarctica than to deploy robots to do the same.

Re:Important for two reasons (2)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990302)

At some point I think some geologists in an ATV with a few months to spare could probably do the work of dozens of rovers. But the expense is high. Besides I tend to look at the current and next few generations of rovers and probes as narrowing down the places we should look. If we had gone to Mars, say, twenty five or thirty years ago as a lot of the Apollo folks seemed to think we would, it would have been sort of a shot in the dark. Life on Mars, if it exists, may not be as universally prevalent as life on Earth. It may only be at hot spots, or closer to the equator, or in deep rift valleys. By getting robots, probes and orbiters there and analyzing Mars of long periods of time to spot events like this seasonal melting (if that's what it is), narrows down good places to land humans at some point.

I'd say we study all the data on this region, spend a few more years to make sure it isn't just some weird fluke event, and then, if it seems a sustained hydrology-like activity, we aim a damned rover right at that area, look at the mud and see if any signs of metabolism, excretion or any self-perpetuating chemical reactions can be found. If you find that, then I'd say it's time to start considering a manned mission.

Re:Important for two reasons (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990694)

A dozen astronauts on the moon did more science than all the unmanned landers in NASA's history combined. That is partially because "hey, we've got to bring the fellas back anyway, may as well bring some rocks too" but is also because humans are just plain more adaptable, more flexible, and more useful when it comes to doing science.

Re:Important for two reasons (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990788)

There's no reason why you couldn't collect some rocks with an unmanned probe. The Russian Luna program did that, and I'm sure NASA could have done better.

On the other hand, unmanned missions have returned a wealth of information from the outer solar system. I don't know if the moon rocks can beat that.

Re:Important for two reasons (1)

madhatter256 (443326) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990138)

All I picked up from it is that there is nearly definitive proof that there is underwater flow of water or a water like solution as the seasons change....

However, water on mars is nearly impossible because they said that the current atmospheric pressure will literally boil water on the surface, even at those low subzero temperatures.

More research and probing will be needed to find a way to create fuel for human visitors to return back to Earth once on Mars...

Re:Important for two reasons (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990212)

However, water on mars is nearly impossible because they said that the current atmospheric pressure will literally boil water on the surface, even at those low subzero temperatures.

My take was that salty water could indeed be on the surface, at least briefly. Pools and ponds, not so much. But pools of salt water could indeed be available subsurface, perhaps in the first couple of meters of soil.

Re:Important for two reasons (1)

madhatter256 (443326) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990676)

Yep, but they are saying that this could be really, really, salty water or solution with some water, which is why it flows out onto the surface and 'stays' there for a period of time. One thing I didnt see in the pix they showed is if the deposits stay there, they seemed to fade away... so it could be evaporating into the atmosphere or seeping back into ground...

Face on Mars (2)

agwis (690872) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990082)

Can't wait for the next round of conspiracy theories! Salty tears from the face on Mars perhaps? Mr. Hoagland?!

So what's the next probe going to do? (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990116)

How are they going to get at this water if it's even possible? Drill down? Burrow down? Sample soil from outside these spurts?

Water on Mars... (1)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990120)

I still am not convinced that life would need water- seems a very geocentric view. Yes, I know water is neutal- disolves base and acid equally, there are hydrophobic and hydrophillic molecules... blah blah blah- but I'm not convinced that there could not be life forces formed based on gases- etc... I would have thought gas giants could be the idea place to look for non-human life. So I don't hold much stock in finding (non-earth originating life) on mars just because water is there. HOWEVER, water there would be good because it would mean less water would need to be taken by any colonists.

Re:Water on Mars... (2)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990208)

The problem, I think, is that life based, say on, gasses (sort of like Arthur C. Clarke's Jovians) could never be very complex. Water and carbon, so far as we know, and I think we know our chemistry well enough to make the statement, seem the best building blocks for complex life. There are alternatives, like methane (which some think might be how life could exist on Titan), but water is still the best, so it probably makes more sense to concentrate on bodies in our solar system where liquid water can be found. Mars has been iffy because there's not a lot of evidence of any kind of active hydrological cycle, but now we know there's one way in which such a cycle takes place. Maybe there are more. There's still the possibility of geological activity which means perhaps underground there may be areas of high thermal heat.

Re:Water on Mars... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990256)

Yes, it's a very geocentric view because it's the one data point that we know of. It's possible that life forms in the clouds of methane and ammonia on Jupiter or anywhere else for that matter. We just know how it works in a water based environment. Everything else is up in the air, so to speak.

If you're starting out this kind of research (and we are obviously in the very early phases) and you have a very limited budget, you go for the most likely scenarios first. You leave the gas giants to the science fiction writers for now.

Is there any other evidence? (1)

MacTO (1161105) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990128)

Changing dark streaks. Cool. Something is going on down there that fundamentally changes our perception of Mars as a planet that's frozen in time. (Well, except for the dust storms and the seasonal variations in the polar caps.)

The thing is, this doesn't say 'water' to me because it could very well be some other physical phenomena which isn't all that different from Lowell's canals or the face on Mars. They really should do proper science and wait for something more concrete, such as spectroscopic data, before making such announcements.

Re:Is there any other evidence? (2)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990234)

They seem to be hedging their bets, but to my mind, their explanation of a briny mud is probably most likely. The temperatures near the equator should be high enough in the Martian summer to make this work. It's a tentative discovery that will have to wait until we send more probes. At least this gives those designing future missions a better kind of candidate location for looking for flowing water, and maybe even life. Landing a rover near one of these flows, if it can be done, might prove very fruitful indeed.

Re:Is there any other evidence? (5, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990288)

They really should do proper science and wait for something more concrete, such as spectroscopic data, before making such announcements.

What exactly do you think they did? Re read Kim Stanley Robinson? Yes, their is spectroscopic data that supports the ideas, yes they need to do more it.

Proper science isn't waiting until you know everything. That never happens anyway.

Re:Is there any other evidence? (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990344)

We know there are significant amounts of water ice on Mars, in some places pretty close to the surface. In a way, it only stands to reason that in the warmer areas near the equator that frozen water with a lot of salts and other minerals in suspension would melt, and if it stays liquid for any length of time, it will form mud and flow downhill. This isn't a "wow, never saw that coming" kind of a discovery, it's a more a confirmation of some of the theoretical work that's been going on over the last five or six years.

Re:Is there any other evidence? (1)

H0p313ss (811249) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990398)

What exactly do you think they did? Re read Kim Stanley Robinson?

Well said.

  I love how half of the Slashdot comments imply that the commenter must know more about Mars and Geophysics than NASA.

Re:Is there any other evidence? (1)

Russ1642 (1087959) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990290)

They have to announce it or there won't be any further science. The people in charge of funding this kind of research need a constant supply of stories like this or they lose all interest.

Re:Is there any other evidence? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36990520)

The thing is, this doesn't say 'water' to me

And you are?

Not a planetary scientist, at a guess, otherwise I think you might have mentioned it.

Ob. XKCD (3, Funny)

DarthVain (724186) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990172)

Real Science!

http://xkcd.com/683/ [xkcd.com]

Re:Ob. XKCD (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990450)

I especially like the frame where the dude removes his required uncomfortable safety goggles for a bit because no one will notice.

Good example of why a Mars base would be useful (1)

Neil Watson (60859) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990362)

Observations make it look like there might be some sort of water cycle going on on Mars. Now the question is can existing probes provide further evidence? If not is new probe required? If there was a human presence on Mars they could mount an expedition to investigate.

It's hard to put humans into space but, humans are so much more adaptable to changing mission parameters.

Re:Good example of why a Mars base would be useful (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990486)

doesn't help when the humans are *there* and the stuff of interest is thousands of kilometers away. cheap proles, reprogrammable remotely, are the way to go for now.

Re:Good example of why a Mars base would be useful (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990502)

oops, meant probes, not proletariat.

Paper out today in Science (1)

kels (9845) | more than 3 years ago | (#36990594)

Contrary to what some have speculated, this is not just science by press conference. There is an actual paper [sciencemag.org] out today in Science magazine (subscription only, but a summary is here [sciencemag.org] ). It is speculative, but not of the "arsenic life" or "bacteria in a Mars meteorite" variety.

What's with all this maybe crap? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36990732)

Can't we just launch a spy satellite and have it orbit Mars? Seriously, we could see down to 1/2 meter resolution and fuckin' see the water if there is any.

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