07 December 2006

Water on Mars?

Photographs of one of the Mars crater

I know I am a little late in blogging this story but being a nerd I couldn’t pass it up. It may add up to nothing but if it does turn out that there is water on Mars then it is possibile that there could be life, albeit of a primitive kind.

Scientists appear to have discovered evidence of water gushing down gullies on Mars. If this is confirmed then it massively increases the possibility that some regions of the planet might still be capable of harbouring life.

Pictures taken by the Mars Global Surveyor, which has been orbiting the planet for 10 years, reveal distinctive streaks of what could be water bursting out of crater walls and flowing around boulders and other rocky debris strewn across the surface. Researchers have previously found evidence that ancient lakes once dotted the Martian landscape, and vast quantities of water ice are known to be locked up in sheets of permafrost at the planet's frigid poles. But this is the first evidence that liquid water, crucial to nurture life, might still be found on the planet.

Nasa scientists compared pictures of the Martian landscape taken between 1999 and 2006 and looked for signs of recent changes on the surface. They identified two craters where light streaks suggested water had erupted from the walls and poured down the slopes, leaving mineral deposits for hundreds of metres. The first crater was in a region on the planet's southern hemisphere called Terra Sirenum. Images of the crater taken in April 2005 revealed an apparent burst of water from the north-west wall of the crater that were not visible in an image taken in December 2001. The second crater was also in the southern hemisphere in a region called Centauri Montes. Here, images taken in February 2004 suggest a liquid flowed down the crater's north wall and left deposits that were not seen when the crater was previously photographed in August 1999. However, because of the extremely thin atmosphere on Mars, any water that did erupt from the ground would quickly boil and evaporate.

If they are right, the images add weight to the theory that liquid water remains buried beneath the Martian surface. Sudden impacts from asteroids would leave craters with cracked walls from which subsurface water could easily erupt. Another possibility is that the markings are caused by jets of liquid carbon dioxide, an explanation that some scientists favour because previous computer models suggested liquid water could only exist several kilometres below the crust.

Scientists have long wondered whether life ever existed on Mars and Nasa's mantra in the search for extraterrestrial life has been to follow signs of water. On Earth, all forms of life require water to survive. Among the planets in our solar system, only Earth has a more hospitable climate than Mars, and some scientists suspect Mars once sheltered primitive, bacteria-like organisms. Previous missions found evidence that the red planet at one time boasted ample quantities of water, and the question is whether liquid water is still present.


elasticwaistbandlady said...

You should call this story, "NASA Has Wet Dreams!" :) Let us pray that all this prodding of Mars doesn't lead to an outbreak like we saw in the movie, "MARS ATTACKS!"

I believe that somewhere out there in the galaxy are other planets similar to Earth and populated with beings similar to us. I really do.

jams o donnell said...

Wet Dreams? Damn I wish I had thought of that! Ah well, there will be enough smutty headline in this blog in the future!

What will aliens look like? I am not sure. Perhaps they will look a bit like us. If there us a planet that has much the same conditions as earth then it is possible that the inhabitants will develop along similar lines

Anonymous said...

I suspect NASA may have got the scale wrong on these pictures. In the bottom right quarter you can clearly see a blocked plug hole. I think you'll find that we're actually looking at close-up shots of a very dirty sink. If anything, this proves that there were once students on Mars.

Seriously though, I think these pictures pose more questions than they answer. What kind of mechanism could cause liquid to erupt from a crater wall? Have any similar phenomena been recorded here on Earth?

Anonymous said...

There has been compelling evidence of liquid water on Mars for many years now - flowing down crater walls and hills...some even pooling. The MALIN imaging team has even shown small-squat trees, similar to our own "Banyan" trees in the deserts of Earth. Sir Arthur C. Clark has even commented on them.

I'm glad that NASA has finally announced the news of water on Mars, and it's just a matter of time of evidence of biological fingerprints. There is already an increase in methane in the atmosphere...could it be the by product of Martian critters?

How irritating to come across individuals who maintian the old and dated concept of a cold, dry and dead Mars, and argue the raw data. NASA and SETI had come to the conclusion that news about possible extra-terrestial life should be announced slowly and well paced out. This is so not to frighten and shake up the "masses". Ugh.

Just a matter of time.


Chicago Astronomer Joe

jams o donnell said...

I think you may be right Roger but I shudder to think what the "water" stain could be. I wont say it! I suppose it could be a meteorite landing that cuased it but to be honest I really don't know. It is still fascinating.

Chigago astronomer.. Squat trees? in an atmosphere such as that on Mars? surely some artefact, simulacra or the sort. As or life there, I dont expect anything more than the very primitive sort such as bacteria. I am sure there is intelligent life out there but I doubt it has been visiting earth.

Pete said...

I thinks NASA's funding imperatives may occasionally embroider its observations.

NASA need to remember there are many more liquids than water especially at Mar's different temperature.

Still if it justifies another mission for a closer look - I think its money better spent than on that other big ticket item (Iraq).

jams o donnell said...

Again a good point Pete, it could be a hydrocrabon possibly. I think it is well worth investigating though and, yes, better spent than on the disaster unfolding in Iraq.

Steve Bates said...

If there us a planet that has much the same conditions as earth then it is possible that the inhabitants will develop along similar lines. - jams

Convergent evolution arguments can go only so far. Conditions set the basic limits, but when you think of how seldom evolution on Earth has even come close to repeating itself, you have to exercise caution in arguing that the conditions determine the specifics of the critters.

Look at the Burgess Shale (I actually have seen samples of it, by the way): there are whole huge branches of the metaphorical tree of life which have fallen off, i.e., they have literally no further branches, no descendants on Earth today.

Are there critters somewhere in the vast universe that meet our criteria for intelligent life? Possibly, but if they exist, they will almost certainly not look much like you or the not-wife, nor even like Mimi. As the late Stephen Jay Gould wrote repeatedly, the particulars of life on Earth are a contingent reality, not an inevitability.

elasticwaistbandlady said...

This super shallow superficial comment is directed at Pete of Pete's Blog.

Pete, did you ever see that movie, Zoolander? Because, based on your avatar photo, you, sir, are also, really, really, ridiculously good looking too!

jams o donnell said...

True there are so many dead ends in evolution,, take the Trilobite a fossil of which I can see any time I use the toilet. True there are many different possibilites and it isn't inevitable that evolution will provide the same solution. That said if condition are much the same then perhaps it wil throw up creatures which if not looking much like us will have many similar attributes. perhaps a sensory system that gives stereoscopic vision, a means of grasping simmilar to our pentadactyl limb with opposing thumbs etc

It really depends what conditions life can exist beyond the primitive. I suppose in some conditions we really can have super intelligent shades of the colour blue!

Steve Bates said...

EWBL, I've never seen that movie, but Stella would love it because it has David Duchovny in it. That, in turn, is odd, because in real life, Stella seems more drawn to hairy, bearded, mustachioed men than to the clean-cut types. And a good thing it is, because I look like I'm in one of evolution's backwaters myself. :) Pete, OTOH, could indeed be a movie star.

jams, I like the notion of an intelligent color. There had better be different shades of blue available to the critter, though; otherwise, it might have trouble expressing itself.

elasticwaistbandlady said...

We have something in common, Steve, my Dad is the Missing Link! Thus making me daughter of the Missing Link. I have most of the furry attributes as well.

David Duchovny plays a hand model. The movie was beyond awful but it did have some mighty fine quotable quotes wedged in there.

jams o donnell said...

You and me both Steve, I am definitely bearded and hairy. but at least the back hair is greying so I can pretend to be a silver back!

The intelligent colour is nicked from teh Hitchhikers guide to teh galaxy.. never let it be said that I have an original thought!!

I liked Zoolander.. It was hideous watching but I did enjoy it!

Pete said...


Never seen Zoolander but I have seen Spaceballs (starring the Smith and Jones team).

Steve Jones is correct. The handsome chap is a star, Errol Flynn (a fellow Aussie, born in Tasmania).

On his deathbed Errol said:

"Pete old chap that Blair fellow needs a good hiding would you mind placing my photo on your Google blog for eternity."

I could only but agree. I've actually tried out other avatars but commenters on the blog say they miss Errol.


mullet said...

spaceballs was too funny!

mullet said...

also pete...errol flynn died with the clap! look out, theres a fox hole....good ol boy!

Pete said...


True. Errol was also a complete alcoholic, a womaniser, who swung from the far Right to far Left(politicly) and won and lost fortunes. But he lived a very full life. See him on wiki at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Errol_Flynn - notice the likeness to moi.

jams o donnell said...

Ah Errol has a real lust for life. Modern Hollywood hell raisers seem tame by comparison.

Anonymous said...

hello fello nerds :] x if it was a close up of a dirty sink wouldnt it have a large plug hole just thought i would say x

jams o donnell said...

There is something that might pass for a pluchole in the photo.. it's just that it might be a very small plughole or a very, very large sink!

jams o donnell said...

err that should be plug, not pluc

Anonymous said...

I wish there was Martians like the ones from mars attacks I liked them!!!