Saturday, September 28, 2013

Martian Water

The big news out of NASA the other day was that the Curiosity rover on Mars has run some soil tests with surprising results. The SUV sized rover scooped up a sample of the Martian soil and heated it. Upon testing the vapors emitted they found water. But they didn't just find water, but much more than expected! In fact, a cubic foot of the soil tested would yield two pints of water when heated!

This is a big deal for a couple reasons. One is that readily available, and relatively obtainable water is a huge help for any future maned missions to Mars. This means that less water will have to be brought along from Earth, which makes any such mission just that much less difficult. It also means that those future missions won't have to rely on securing and melting ice from Mars' polar cap for additional water for astronauts. Granted, water being present doesn't automatically mean that it's currently drinkable. But it's certainly much more positive than there being no water present at all.

The bigger implication is that a healthy dose of water makes the chances of past or present life on Mars even more likely. Water is necessary for life on Earth, so the absence of water would severely diminish the chances of life on a bone dry globe. But Mars was once very wet, and as it turns out, is currently wetter than surmised. This bodes well for the chances of finding that life once existed on Mars. That is one development that I will be watching eagerly and closely.

Of course, some have gotten carried away with this announcement. Even going as far as claiming that NASA is on the cusp of proving current life on Mars. I'm not sure how, since Curiosity wasn't really set up to find signs of life. That's going to be the mission of it's sister rover that will be launched at a later date. Now don't get me wrong, but I would love it if they were able to confirm that Mars still hosts life. But I'm not going to hold my breath.

The radiation that Mars experiences from the Sun makes me seriously doubt that anything could live on or near the surface. Perhaps there could be microbes deep in the soil, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Though I do feel that it's a fairly safe bet to say that Mars once hosted life in it's past.
Mars now, and what it may have once looked like in the past.
Mars cooled faster than Earth, was once a world with great oceans, and then it all went wrong. Most of that water has been lost to space or soaked into the soil. The atmosphere... basically gone. But Mars had a head start on Earth in the department of 'conditions suitable for life'. Mars had time for life to arise (simple life) before it all went pear-shaped.

But like I said, the answer to the question of life on Mars will likely have to wait for the next mission. Personally, I can't wait until our next rover touches down on the red planet... even if it is beginning to 'look' more blue.

-Brain Hulk

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