Discussing Water on Mars

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New findings from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.  They have been seen to flow during the Martian summer and ebb during the Martian winter. 

Lujendra Ojha, Mary Beth Wilhelm, Scott L. Murchie, Alfred S. McEwen, James J. Wray, Jennifer Hanley, Marion Massé & Matt Chojnacki. Spectral evidence for hydrated salts in recurring slope lineae on Mars AOP. Nature Geoscience, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2546

Hydrated salts in solution with liquid water keep the water flowing even in sub-zero temperatures. Think of it as antifreeze. The spectral signatures are caused by hydrated minerals called perchlorates. The hydrated salts are consistent with the chemical signatures of 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.
Can Mars be terraformed?
These results indicate that the presence of liquid water on the surface could potentially be exploited and used not only as propellant base, but for a far more permanent human presence on Mars. 

24 thoughts on “Discussing Water on Mars

  1. "The Martian" debuts this weekend, and I'm going to see it on the Big Screen. Read the book, and the screenplay looks well done, based on the previews I've seen.

    This water discovery would slightly alter the facts that Matt Damon faced as he struggled to survive on Mars until a rescue mission was patched together. His survival math included only finite amounts of water, bio material and O2 on hand. With infinite access to water, much of the basis of his struggle is lessened to a large degree; that is, if he figured out a way to remove the perchlorates from the H20. And the script has the guy at about 170 IQ, I suspect he would find a way.

  2. Water means that you have…water, and can break out the hydrogen (fuel) and oxygen to breathe.

    Please report back (on your blog or wherever) and let us know if "The Martian" is worth seeing.

  3. I doubt it.

    However I'm sure that you saw the movie, "Mars Attacks!" There are martian life deniers, but if there is no life on Mars, how did the Canadian Communion end up there? (referencing your blog).

    That aside, the really interesting question is not one of surface water but of deeper (and potentially 'pure') water. The surface water must have perchlorate in it to remain fluid, but if Mars has a warmer core, there could be liquid water deeper that could be tapped for the purpose of mankind's use.

  4. As a life long science fiction fan, I'm loving this Mars news. We'll know soon enough if the theorized underground water is there or not. We are the Martians after all.

  5. You're right, ACoC could well be holed up in a deep Martian aquifer. If true, this has potentially disastrous implications for future use — by mankind.

  6. The problem with Terraforming Mars is that Mars has no magnetic field.

    No magnetic field = no shield to stop the incoming solar wind from blowing away the atmosphere.

  7. I've worked with the entire planetary science department at Cal Tech since late 2013. There is lots of water on Mars. It's under the permafrost and JPL knows it. This is surface water and it is present abundantly. The confirmation of SURFACE WATER is what made the news. The reason that the volume of water on Mars is not in the public domain has more to do with the lack of any drilling to confirm what sort of water is there (what it's mixed with) and how much is there.

  8. No magnetic field = vast radiation on the ground.

    However, domes are possible if there is accessible water and if there is a way to detoxify the surface soil, which is permeated with H2O2.

  9. That, too.

    When I said "Terraforming", I meant no domes. Living in domes would definitely be doable, but keep your pressure suit handy!

  10. Pressure suit with full radiation shielding. But do-able if you can use the water to create 0-2. I don't disagree with your verdict on terraforming. There is a lot about Mars that works against creating an atmosphere that will linger beyond what is there. The big question is WHY one would go to Mars and stay there permanently. What is the pay-back for many trillion $ beyond pure science? If that can be answered, then — maybe we will be Martians.

  11. Yep. We're way past the "Let's Just Do It", or "To Beat The Commies!" stage of space exploration.

    It would probably cost a hundred billion and take 20 years to do a full-on expedition like we see in the movies….

  12. Much of the cost depends on how much we have to lift from Earth to make the place self-sustaining. Heavy equipment to move soil (burning hydrogen) and structural components would all have to come from Mother Earth for the foreseeable future. The same is true of exploration vehicles. During that time, we would contaminate the Martian surface with Earth microbes for all time.

  13. ….between Saving Private Ryan, Interstellar, and The Martian, America has spent entirely too much money trying to rescue Matt Damon. Just my opinion.

  14. I didn't know you were in the know. Surely we can purify whatever is in the underground water as easily as we can distill the perchlorates from the surface water. What's the hold up with the drilling… do you know?

  15. Lol. The one reason I won't watch The Martian is Matt Damon. I try not to let the artist spoil the art for me, but there are some exceptions and Damon is one of them. I say no move saving his butt. Let him be an unemployed actor.

  16. The liberal establishment has turned their thorny backs on Damon. Which means that he's managed to tick everyone off.

    And I find that interesting, because liberals puff that they are the people of the "big tent" that accepts everyone (except conservatives) and Damon meets that criteria. They're becoming very fickle.

  17. There is a relatively small budget these days. The next shot is Mars 2020. They're using ground penetrating radar on that one. GP Radar does not work (hardly at all) in waterlogged soil.

    I've personally spoken with the scientists (some from Norway) who are working on that aspect of it.

    I very much doubt that this one will be able to drill deeper than a few feet. As I understand it, this shot will go to the northern latitudes which are more likely to have liquid water.

    It's an annoyingly slow process. If we were sending something to Mars every year or every other year, many of the nagging questions would be answered quickly. The same is true of the Jupiter Icy Moons exploration and the landing on Titan (Saturn System).

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