Liquid water lake discovered on Mars

No green men (or green women or LGBT) yet, but another scientific discovery on Mars that suggests some form of life could exist or could have existed.

Using radar the European Space Agency’s Mars Express has discovered liquid water 1.6km deep beneath the south polar region of Mars.

ESA: Mars Express Detects Liquid Water Hidden Under Planet’s South Pole

Radar data collected by ESA’s Mars Express point to a pond of liquid water buried under layers of ice and dust in the south polar region of Mars.

Evidence for the Red Planet’s watery past is prevalent across its surface in the form of vast dried-out river valley networks and gigantic outflow channels clearly imaged by orbiting spacecraft. Orbiters, together with landers and rovers exploring the martian surface, also discovered minerals that can only form in the presence of liquid water.

Early results from the 15-year old Mars Express spacecraft already found that water-ice exists at the planet’s poles and is also buried in layers interspersed with dust.

Scientists believe there could be a 20km-long lake siting under Mar's south polar ice cap.

The presence of liquid water at the base of the polar ice caps has long been suspected; after all, from studies on Earth, it is well known that the melting point of water decreases under the pressure of an overlying glacier. Moreover, the presence of salts on Mars could further reduce the melting point of water and keep the water liquid even at below-freezing temperatures.

But until now evidence from the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument, MARSIS, the first radar sounder ever to orbit another planet, remained inconclusive.

Ground-penetrating radar uses the method of sending radar pulses towards the surface and timing how long it takes for them to be reflected back to the spacecraft, and with what strength. The properties of the material that lies between influences the returned signal, which can be used to map the subsurface topography.

The radar investigation shows that south polar region of Mars is made of many layers of ice and dust down to a depth of about 1.5 km in the 200 km-wide area analysed in this study. A particularly bright radar reflection underneath the layered deposits is identified within a 20 km-wide zone.

“This subsurface anomaly on Mars has radar properties matching water or water-rich sediments,” says Roberto Orosei, principal investigator of the MARSIS experiment and lead author of the paper published in the journal Science today.

“This is just one small study area; it is an exciting prospect to think there could be more of these underground pockets of water elsewhere, yet to be discovered.”

Mars Express launched 2 June 2003 so has been in orbit for nearly fifteen years. This is an impressive mission.

If you want to have a look for yourself, Mars will be at it’s closest to Earth soon.

This year, the Red Planet will come the closest to Earth it will be for the next 17 years, making it bigger and brighter than usual.

Both Earth and Mars follow elliptical (oval-shaped) orbits around the Sun. Because Earth is closer to the Sun than Mars, it speeds along its orbit more quickly than the Red Planet. We take two trips around the Sun in about the same time it takes Mars to take one! When Earth lines up directly between Mars and the Sun, we say that Mars is in opposition.

This happens every two years or so, and this year will occur on 27 July. Mars perihelion is the point when the planet is closest to the Sun in its orbit. When this occurs within a few weeks of opposition, we get a perihelic opposition and Mars appears bigger and brighter than usual.

These perihelic oppositions are not nearly as common, happening only every 17 years or so. The last one was in 2003 and the next chance to spot Mars this close won’t be until 2035. The closest approach will occur on 31 July.

However, viewing Mars during this exciting celestial event is not just restricted to the 27th or 31st of July…you will still catch superb views for about six weeks on either side of the date of opposition. Throughout July and August, Earth and our neighbour in space will only be around 58 million kilometres apart.

https://www.stardome.org.nz/mad-about-mars/

Mars is visible (if there’s no clouds) throughout the night.It wil be one of the brightest objects in the sky, and is red tinged. There’s a massive dust storm on Mars at the moment so that helps reflect light, but will make it harder to see the lake.

See for planet viewing times: https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/night/new-zealand/dunedin

Evidence of possible life on Mars

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found new evidence that adds weight to the possibility there has been life on Mars (in the distant past).

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet. While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet’s surface and subsurface.

This low-angle self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the site from which it reached down to drill in

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at the site from which it reached down
to drill into a rock target called “Buckskin” on lower Mount Sharp.

The new findings – “tough” organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface, as well as seasonal variations in the levels of methane in the atmosphere – appear in the June 8 edition of the journal Science.

Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, and also may include oxygen, nitrogen and other elements. While commonly associated with life, organic molecules also can be created by non-biological processes and are not necessarily indicators of life.

“With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington. “I’m confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet.”

“Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules,” said Jen Eigenbrode of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is lead author of one of the two new Science papers. “Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes.”

Although the surface of Mars is inhospitable today, there is clear evidence that in the distant past, the Martian climate allowed liquid water – an essential ingredient for life as we know it – to pool at the surface. Data from Curiosity reveal that billions of years ago, a water lake inside Gale Crater held all the ingredients necessary for life, including chemical building blocks and energy sources.

Mars isn’t an easy place to escape to if things turn pear shaped on Earth, but if life is proven to have survived there in the past it would add weight to the lack of uniqueness of life on Earth.

Panorama of Mars

NASA have put together a cool panorama of Mars from the rover Curiosity, that has been there rolling around trhere for five years.

Washington Post:

After nearly 2,000 Martian days — after crossing an ancient lake bed and weaving past sand dunes on a planet of bluetinged sunsets and small, lumpy moons — the Mars rover Curiosity turned around to look back on its years-long journey.

This week, NASA released a composite photo of what Curiosity saw in October, and if the rover could breathe, it might gasp.

In one image was its whole story: from the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, where it sat holding its camera, to the spot in the crater floor 11 miles distant, where it had touched down five years earlier to great celebration on Earth.

Curiosity has brought Mars to life for the public. The soil data it’s collected suggest Mars was once a beautiful planet of rivers and lakes. But the rover’s many postcards of eclipses, dust devils and shimmering sands showed the world it’s a beautiful place, even now.

There’s a lot of details here Curiosity’s five-year journey across Mars — in one stunning photo.

NASA Confirms that liquid water flows on Mars

As predicted the big news announcement from NASA was that they have “the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars”.

Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on the Red Planet. These darkish streaks appear to ebb and flow over time. They darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, and then fade in cooler seasons. They appear in several locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), and disappear at colder times.

“Our quest on Mars has been to ‘follow the water,’ in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we’ve long suspected,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water — albeit briny — is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”

These dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks called recurring slope lineae flowing downhill on Mars are inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water. Recently, planetary scientists detected hydrated salts on these slopes at Hale crater, corroborating their original hypothesis that the streaks are indeed formed by liquid water. The blue color seen upslope of the dark streaks are thought not to be related to their formation, but instead are from the presence of the mineral pyroxene.
Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

“We found the hydrated salts only when the seasonal features were widest, which suggests that either the dark streaks themselves or a process that forms them is the source of the hydration. In either case, the detection of hydrated salts on these slopes means that water plays a vital role in the formation of these streaks,” said Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, lead author of a report on these findings published Sept. 28 by Nature Geoscience.

Ojha first noticed these puzzling features as a University of Arizona undergraduate student in 2010, using images from the MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). HiRISE observations now have documented RSL at dozens of sites on Mars. The new study pairs HiRISE observations with mineral mapping by MRO’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM).

The spectrometer observations show signatures of hydrated salts at multiple RSL locations, but only when the dark features were relatively wide. When the researchers looked at the same locations and RSL weren’t as extensive, they detected no hydrated salt.

Ojha and his co-authors interpret the spectral signatures as caused by hydrated minerals called perchlorates. The hydrated salts most consistent with the chemical signatures are likely a mixture of magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate. Some perchlorates have been shown to keep liquids from freezing even when conditions are as cold as minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 70 Celsius). On Earth, naturally produced perchlorates are concentrated in deserts, and some types of perchlorates can be used as rocket propellant.

Perchlorates have previously been seen on Mars. NASA’s Phoenix lander and Curiosity rover both found them in the planet’s soil, and some scientists believe that the Viking missions in the 1970s measured signatures of these salts. However, this study of RSL detected perchlorates, now in hydrated form, in different areas than those explored by the landers. This also is the first time perchlorates have been identified from orbit.

Animation of the site of seasonal; flows in Hales Crater.

More information on this NASA announcement: NASA Confirms Evidence That Liquid Water Flows on Today’s Mars

More information about NASA’s journey to Mars: https://www.nasa.gov/topics/journeytomars

More information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: http://www.nasa.gov/mro

Mars true-color globe showing Terra Meridiani.
Credits: NASA/Greg Shirah

Mars is the next planet out in the solar system from  Earth. While it is quite a bit smaller (about half the diameter and about as much surface area as there is land on Earth):

File:Mars, Earth size comparison.jpg

Mars has two small moons, Phobos (22 km diameter) and Deimos (12 km diameter).

The next big thing to discover – is there life on Mars?

Making Mars livable

Continuing on a space theme someone well know for other planet ideas makes a suggestion. In response to a link about  Latest Research Reveals a Bizarre and Vibrant Rosetta’s Comet a reply from Draco T Bastard:

We should be looking for ways to nudge those comets into Mars. Get enough mass there and Mars will become livable. It’s not at the moment due to the lack of atmosphere and electromagnetic field.

That’s probably more realistic than some of his politcal suggestions. UPDATE:

Molten core Magnetic field Of course, slamming Mars with asteroids and comets still may not be enough to re-heat it’s core and thus get its magnetic field going or replace it’s atmosphere. May have to nip out to the Kuiper Belt or the Oort Cloud and grab a dwarf planet or two.

Not to mention slamming comets into a planet is a fairly poor solution to making a planet livable.

Worked for Earth.

UPDATE 2: TheContrarian responded:

Earth’s magnetic field comes from it’s internal dynamo. There is nothing to suggest slamming a planet with comets will do anything about reheating its core and kicking off the dynamo. Least of all anything to do with mass (look at Venus – very similar mass to earth, tiny magnetic field)

“Worked for Earth.”

Firstly it wasn’t just being slammed with comets that made earth livable but, secondly, if you have a few hundreds of million years available then go right ahead.

“May have to nip out to the Kuiper Belt or the Oort Cloud and grab a dwarf planet or two.”

Wow…really? Just “nip” out there and shackle a dwarf planet, send it back to mars and slam it into it. Wow.

This is stupid even for you. These are events that are millions on millions on millions of the years in the making. I can’t even

I’m not sure if the reply was tongue in cheek or serious:

These are events that are millions on millions on millions of the years in the making. I can’t even

Yeah, typical RWNJ – just can’t think long term.

RWNJ = right wing nut job – very ironic, Draco would be a classic LWNJ..

The Beagle had landed

In 2003 the ESA Beagle-2 spacecraft failed to confirm it had successfully landed on Mars.

Mission failure

Although the Beagle 2 craft successfully deployed from the Mars Express “mother ship”, confirmation of a successful landing was not forthcoming. Confirmation should have come on 25 December 2003, when Beagle 2 should have contacted NASA’s 2001 Mars Odysseyspacecraft that was already in orbit. In the following days, the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank also failed to pick up a signal from Beagle 2.

The Beagle disappeared. It was not known if it had failed before landing or had crash landed or just failed to communicate.

But eleven years later Beagle-2 has been found safely landed on Mars but it’s solar panels and communications failed to deploy properly.

European Space Agency has announced Beagle-2 lander found on Mars:

The UK-led Beagle-2 Mars lander, which hitched a ride on ESA’s Mars Express mission and was lost on Mars since 2003, has been found in images taken by a NASA orbiter at the Red Planet.

Beagle-2 was released from its mother craft on 19 December 2003 and was due to land six days later. But nothing was heard from the lander after its scheduled touchdown, and searches by Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Odyssey mission were fruitless.

Now, over a decade later, the lander has been identified in images taken by the high-resolution camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The lander is seen partially deployed on the surface, showing that the entry, descent and landing sequence worked and it did indeed successfully land on Mars on Christmas Day 2003.

“We are very happy to learn that Beagle-2 touched down on Mars. The dedication of the various teams in studying high-resolution images in order to find the lander is inspiring,” says Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

“Not knowing what happened to Beagle-2 remained a nagging worry. Understanding now that Beagle-2 made it all the way down to the surface is excellent news,” adds Rudolf Schmidt, ESA’s Mars Express project manager at the time.

The high resolution images were initially searched by Michael Croon, a former member of the Mars Express operations team at ESA’s Space Operations Centre, ESOC, in Darmstadt, Germany, working in parallel with members of the Beagle-2 industrial and scientific teams.

The small size of Beagle-2 – less than 2 m across when fully deployed – meant this was a painstaking endeavour, right at the limit of the resolution of cameras in orbit around Mars.

After the identification of potential counterparts to Beagle-2 in the expected landing of Isidis Planitia, a large impact basin close the martian equator, further images were obtained and analysed by the camera team, the Beagle-2 team and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The images show the lander in what appears to be a partially deployed configuration, with only one, two or at most three of the four solar panels open, and with the main parachute and what is thought to be the rear cover with its pilot/drogue parachute still attached close by.

The size, shape, colour and separation of the features are consistent with Beagle-2 and its landing components, and lie within the expected landing area at a distance of about 5 km from its centre

So the Beagle had landed.

Wikipedia: Beagle 2