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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2004 > Mar > Mar 1

Mars Water Evidence Mounts Scientists Tight-Lipped

From: Frank Warren <frank-warren.nul>
Date: Mon, 01 Mar 2004 08:32:30 -0800
Fwd Date: Mon, 01 Mar 2004 14:55:25 -0500
Subject: Mars Water Evidence Mounts Scientists Tight-Lipped

Source: Space.com


Mars: A Water World? Evidence Mounts, But Scientists Remain

29 February 2004

PASADENA, California -- Evidence that suggests Mars was once a
water-rich world is mounting as scientists scrutinize data from
the Mars Exploration rover, Opportunity, busily at work in a
small crater at Meridiani Planum. That information may well be
leading to a biological bombshell of a finding that the red
planet has been, and could well be now, an extraterrestrial home
for life.

There is a palpable buzz here at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL) in Pasadena, California that something wonderful is about
to happen in the exploration of Mars.

There is no doubt that the Opportunity Mars rover is relaying a
mother lode of geological data. Using an array of tools carried
by the golf cart-sized robot -- from spectrometers, a rock
grinder, cameras and powerful microscopic imager -- scientists
are carefully piecing together a compelling historical portrait
of a wet and wild world.

Where Opportunity now roves, some scientists here suggest, could
have been underneath a huge ocean or lake. But what has truly
been uncovered by the robot at Meridiani Planum is under
judicious and tight-lipped review.

Those findings and their implications are headed for a major
press conference, rumored to occur early next week -- but given
unanimity among rover scientists and agreement on how and who
should unveil the dramatic findings. Turns out, even on Mars, a
political and ego outcrop hangs over science.

Scientific bulls-eye

It is clear that Opportunity's Earth-to-Mars hole in one --
 bouncing into a small crater complete with rock outcrop -- has
also proven to be a scientific bulls-eye. The robot is wheeling
about the crater that is some 70 feet (22 meters) across and 10
feet (3 meters) deep.

It is also apparent that there is a backlog of scientific
measurements that Mars rover scientists working Opportunity have
pocketed and kept close to their lab coats.

For one, the rover found the site laden with hematite -- a
mineral that typically, but not always -- forms in the presence
of water. Then there are the puzzling spherules found in the
soil and embedded in rock. They too might be water-related, but
also could be produced by the actions of a meteor impact or a
spewing volcano.

A few spheres have been sliced in half and their insides imaged.
Patches of these spherules, or "berries" as some call them, have
undergone spectrometer exam to discern their mineral and
chemistry makeup. Close-up photos of soil and rock have also
shown thread-like features and even an oddly shaped object that
looks like Rotini pasta.

Brew of dissolved salts

There is speculation that the soil underneath the wheels of both
Spirit and Opportunity rovers contains small amounts of water
mixed with salt in a brine. That brew of dissolved salts keeps
the mixture well below the freezing point of pure water,
permitting it to exist in liquid form.

Opportunity has revisited select spots in the outcrop, drawn
there, in part, to look for cross-beds -- sedimentary deposits
that are formed in beach, river and sand-dune environments.
Using its Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT), the rover has carried out
several cleaning and grinding sessions on exposed rock outcrop.

Cross-beds are patterns of curving lines or traces found within
the strata of sandstone and other sedimentary rocks. Cross-
bedding indicates the general direction and force of the wind or
water that originally laid down the sediments.

Right around the corner

Opportunity's research is a "work in progress", said Ray
Arvidson, deputy principal investigator for the Mars Exploration
Rover (MER) project from Washington University in St. Louis.
Data is being gathered to present "a coherent story", he said
during a press briefing last Thursday.

"That story is right around the corner," Arvidson told SPACE.com
. "But we need to finish this work in progress, finish the set
of experiments, get the data down from the spacecraft, processed
and analyzed. Then I think that the story will be known," he

Arvidson said multiple working hypotheses are still at play.
Water is involved, but only on some of the hypotheses. Until
coordinated experiments on the outcrop are completed, what the
right hypothesis is remains unknown, he added.

Severing the umbilical cord

Mars exploration using the rovers has allowed on-the-spot
"discovery driven science", said MER Deputy Project Scientist
Albert Haldeman. He likened the Mars robot work now underway to
deep ocean research using remotely operated submersibles.

"It turns out that the best way to explore rocks [on Mars] is go
look at craters. Mobility buys us the ability to do that. It was
the right fit for looking at rocks," Haldeman told SPACE.com .
"The discovery from the Microscopic Imager and seeing those
spherules=85and finding a larger population of spherules and
seeing them in the rocks and the outcrop=85that progression of
discovery influences our thinking."

Haldeman said the next step will be severing the umbilical cord
between Opportunity and the crater it's exploring. The robot
would wheel itself out of that site and onto the expansive
terrain of Meridiani Planum.

"That umbilical cord=85that's hard to break. It's more than even
just a tension within the science team," Haldeman said.

Tantalizing hints

Scientists are carefully analyzing the rock data gleaned by the
Opportunity rover. "We really want to understand that we've got
those figured out right," Haldeman said. Up to now they have
offered some "tantalizing hints", he said, that speak to a
possible relationship with water.

Piecing together the story of what Opportunity has found
involves great care and deliberation, Haldeman said, based on a
wide-range of viewpoints and levels of expertise. "We want to be
cautious," he explained.

More to the point, the science output from Mars must withstand
scrutiny by experts outside the rover investigation teams.

"There are lots of geologists out there who are looking at these
pictures and they are starting to drool," Haldeman said. "The
American taxpayer that spent $800 million on this deserves a
thorough analysis," Haldeman said.

Slippery slope leading to life

One scientist eagerly awaiting the news from Mars, particularly
from Opportunity, is Gilbert Levin. He is Chairman of the Board
and Executive Officer for Science of Spherix Incorporated in
Beltsville, Maryland.

Levin is a former Viking Mars lander investigator. He has long
argued that his 1976 Viking Labeled Release (LR) life detection
experiment found living microorganisms in the soil of Mars.

In 1997, Levin reported that simple laws of physics require
water to occur as a liquid on the surface of Mars. Subsequent
experiments and research have bolstered this view, he said, and
reaffirms his Viking LR data regarding microbial life on Mars.

Levin detailed his Mars views in a SPACE.com phone interview and
via email.

"It's hard to image why such bullet-proof evidence was denied
for such a long time, and why those so vigorously denying it
never did so by meeting the science, but merely by brushing it
away," Levin said.

"Of course, now that it must be acknowledged by all that there
is liquid water on the surface of Mars," Levin added, "this
starts those denying the validity of the Mars LR data down the
slippery slope leading to life."

Mars mud

Levin points to Opportunity imagery that offers conclusive proof
of standing liquid water and running water on a cold Mars.

Other images show the rover tracks clearly are being made in
"mud", with water being pressed out of that material, Levin
said. "That water promptly freezes and you can see reflecting
ice. That's clearly ice. It could be nothing else," he said,
"and the source is the water that came out of the mud."

As for the spherical objects found at the Opportunity site,
Levin has a thought.

"I wonder on Mars if it can rain upwards," he said. The idea is
that subsurface water comes up through the soils and then freezes
when it gets to the surface.

"Maybe these little spherules form just like raindrops form up
above," Levin explained.

Levin said that brine on Mars is a code word for liquid water.
He senses that great care is being taken by rover scientists
because the liquid water issue starts the road to life.

"That's the monument that they are afraid to erect without real
due process," Levin concluded.

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