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Hutchca
2004-Jan-29, 08:24 PM
I know I'll probably sound like a crackpot, but I have a theory that I would like to share.
Please poke as many holes in it as you can.

Looking at the photos returned from Opportunity on Sol 1 showing the impressions in the soil made by the airbags.
In particular, Photo 1P128287581EDN0000P2303L5M1 located here http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/all/1/p/001/1P128287581EDN0000P2303L5M1.JPG

The ground appears to be covered with small pebble like granules. It appears that when these granules are crushed, they change texture, leaving an impression.
These impressions and drag marks look like mud. Something appears to be causing the soil to cling together and hold it's shape.

My theory and interpretations of these photos are based on first impressions.
However, first impressions are sometimes more accurate than careful analysis.

Could these "Granules" possibly be holding liquid water or a water based solution? When crushed, they would release the water, temporarily creating mud until the water quickly freezes or boils away.

Part 2. Theorizing about possible Martian macro organisms.

A theoretical macro organism on Mars, might have a rigid shell that would enable it to hold water under pressure. It could also employ some kind of chemical anti freeze to keep the water liquid.

This could be some kind of plant-like organism that absorbs or somehow harvests water from the air or from condensate on the ground.
It would be dark in color to absorb sunlight for warmth and energy.
It would probably be spheroid shaped to minimize surface area in order to minimize heat loss and maximize shell strength to hold pressure.

Back to the Opportunity Landing Site...
These dark granules on the ground seem to posses some of the same attributes as my theoretical Martian "vegetation".

Of course these granules could also simply be clumps of dust that crush easily into a fine powder.
Higher resolution Photos and spectral analysis are only a few days away so we'll find out soon enough.

I'm sure the soil analysis will reveal the presence of water if it is there.
If these granules do contain liquid or frozen water, we should not discount the possibility that it is a form of life.
Martian life forms may not even be carbon based, so they would be difficult for us to distinguish from mineral formations, but they could still be self replicating and chemically active.

Hutchca
2004-Jan-29, 09:52 PM
I have a couple of follow up questions that I hope someone can answer relating to water, temperature and pressure.

We all know by now that at Mars atmospheric pressure, water cannot remain liquid.

There is a pressure vs temperature curve. Water boils if the temperature is too high or the pressure is too low.

At the lower Martian elevations, how low would the temperature need to be to prevent water from boiling?
I realize that this temperature is below freezing, but just theoretically, what if it didn't freeze?

Distilled water freezes at 0 degrees C, but salt water requires a much lower temperature. Chemical anti freezes can lower that temperature even more.

Can chemical anti freeze prevent water from freezing at martian daytime summer temperatures like -40 or -50C?
Is -40 cold enough to prevent boiling? -120C?

To take things in another direction, Salt water also boils at a higher temperature.
How far could you chemically raise the boiling point under martian pressure?

edited to correct mistake

majic
2004-Jan-29, 10:05 PM
I have a couple of follow up questions that I hope someone can answer relating to water, temperature and pressure.

We all know by now that at Mars atmospheric pressure, water cannot remain liquid.

There is a pressure vs temperature curve. Water boils if the temperature is too high or the pressure is too low.

At the lower Martian elevations, how low would the temperature need to be to prevent water from boiling?
I realize that this temperature is below freezing, but just theoretically, what if it didn't freeze?

Distilled water freezes at 0 degrees C, but salt water requires a much lower temperature. Chemical anti freezes can lower that temperature even more.

Can chemical anti freeze prevent water from freezing at martian daytime summer temperatures like -40 or -50C?
Is -40 cold enough to prevent boiling? -120C?

To take things in another direction, Salt water also boils at a lower temperature.
Is it possible to chemically RAISE the boiling point of water?

Uncharmgingly quoting from the NASA website :

"The air pressure is so low on Mars that even in the most favorable spots, where the pressure is higher than average, liquid water is restricted to the range 0 to +10 C," says Bob Haberle of the NASA/Ames Research Center. "Fresh water on Mars begins to boil at 10 C. Here on Earth we can have water anywhere between 0 and 100 C -- that range is reduced by a factor of ten on Mars."

Also an interesting graph of the "triple point" where liquid water might be sustainable (some regions on mars with certain conditions)
http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/images/marssalt/phases.gif

Read the entire (quite interesting) article on the NASA website here :
http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2000/ast29jun_1m.htm

Hutchca
2004-Jan-29, 11:06 PM
Thanks Majic. That article is helpful.
It touches on the subject of salt as an anti freeze but it doesn't show how that would change the water phase graph.

That 0 to +10 C figure would be widened if you add salt.
Perhaps to something like -20 to +15 C or more over a wider range of pressures.

The article estimates that water could remain liquid for some period of time on ~%30 of the planets surface. Wouldn't that estimate need to be revised for salt water?

Does anyone have a water phase diagram for salt water?

majic
2004-Jan-29, 11:38 PM
Thanks Majic. That atricle is helpful.
It touches on the subject of salt as an anti freeze but it doesn't show how that would change the water phase graph.

That 0 to +10 C figure would be widened if you add salt.
Perhaps to something like -20 to +15 C or more.

Does anyone have a water phase diagram for salt water?

The minimum temperature that "saturated" salt water can remain liquid at (without taking into account other aspects) is -21.1C . The water cannot get any saltier because the salt simply will crystalise again.

Other aspects like excerted pressure from hugh amounts of (salt) ice on the polar caps will help lower the melting point even further - although I'm not sure by how much.

Water, once flowing and on the move, can be cooled down substantially without freezing. Regular fresh water can be seen in proper liquid form at -20 flowing in ditto temperate glacier ice / rocks without freezing up at all.

A combination of above factors is our best option, unless there are underground heat sources that are overlooked (as far as I'm aware no internal heating is taking place, but some crust movement due to temperature changes seasonally (ice caps growing/shrinking creating different pressurelvels etc) might generate heat? not sure, I'm not a geologist)

aurora
2004-Jan-30, 12:06 AM
The ground appears to be covered with small pebble like granules. It appears that when these granules are crushed, they change texture, leaving an impression.
These impressions and drag marks look like mud. Something appears to be causing the soil to cling together and hold it's shape.


The surface material does appear to be extremely fluffy. Lots of intergranular gas or something keeping it from compacting, and/or it is extremely low density material.

You might be on to something as to how it formed, at least that moisture was involved in some way.

Superluminal
2004-Jan-30, 01:15 AM
Hutchca, you don't sound like a crackpot to me, you made some good observations. A crackpot would say, "That's not a rock, it's a _____." #-o
The impressions made by the air bags have been one of the more intriquing findings at both sites.

Amadeus
2004-Jan-30, 11:55 AM
If there is some kind of life on mars basic plant life is a lot more likely than even the most basic animal life.

There are plants on this planet that survive with very minimal amounts of water. Commonly know as "Air plants" these get all the moisture they need from the atmosphere and can go into a dorment state.

aurora
2004-Jan-30, 04:44 PM
If there is some kind of life on mars basic plant life is a lot more likely than even the most basic animal life.

There are plants on this planet that survive with very minimal amounts of water. Commonly know as "Air plants" these get all the moisture they need from the atmosphere and can go into a dorment state.

Life can't be widespread on Mars because if it was we'd see its fingerprint in the makeup of the atmosphere.

There might be life that doesn't modify the atmosphere very much, or there might be small bits of life scattered in specific places but in small enough quantities to not have much of an impact. Or there might be life that is dormant, waiting for a million years to pass and Mars' inclination to tip and the climate to change.

eburacum45
2004-Jan-31, 11:52 AM
This texture does look intrigueing;
however if we accept that there is little or no water present at this location, the granules must be some kind of conglomeration of dust... the dust that is periodically carried up into the atmosphere, by the kind of dust devils and transient storms that have been seen from orbit.

When this dust settles, it seems to collect in clumps- these clumps are probably held together by electrostatic attraction only...
floculation is one word for this kind of clumping.
The surface might look like flimsy coffee granules, close up, but the thin atmosphere would not disturb the dust much- except during the periods of high wind.

It suggests to me that the dust devils and wind events are not typical of Martian surface conditions, any more than sand storms represent normal conditions in an Earth desert.

Sparks
2004-Jan-31, 12:06 PM
NASA have been saying since the images came in (and especially the images of how little the soil was disturbed when the microscopic imager was used), that it's more likely that the regolith crust is caused by salts in the crust binding the particles, than it being mud. That said, they were very interested in looking at the dragged surface that seemed to peel away when Spirit's airbags were retracted - but they can't go near that area because it might snag the airbags on the rover's wheels. So they'll spin the rover's wheels in place instead and dig up the crust a little.

Hutchca
2004-Jan-31, 04:18 PM
The MiniTES data is back and it indicates that those dark granules contain hematite. Here's a quote...

"Gray granules covering most of the crater floor surrounding Opportunity contain hematite, said Dr. Phil Christensen, lead scientist for both rovers' miniature thermal emission spectrometers, which are infrared-sensing instruments used for identifying rock types from a distance. Crystalline hematite is of special interest because, on Earth, it usually forms under wet environmental conditions."

Theory...

We know it's possible for water to remain liquid for short times at sunset and sunrise as the dew settles from moisture in the atmosphere and as it melts again and boils away at Sunrise.

This short lived liquid water could be more common inside craters where the ice and the atmosphere around it is temporarily shielded from the rays of the sun in the morning.

Any geologists out there care to theorize about how this process could form hematite?

Personally I'm holding on to my life form theory. These granules could still be self replicating and chemically active. Hematite could be what forms their hard shells or it could be a byproduct of their chemical processes.

Or, it could be that it's just hematite formed by ice melting into the iron rich soil and then boiling away every morning.

When we leave the crater, if we find that these granules are generally only found inside craters, that would steer me toward the theory that these hematite granules are being formed presently and not from ancient water. That would be disappointing since we came here looking for evidence of ancient water.

Can any of the on board instruments get a read on the age of rocks?

Kaptain K
2004-Feb-01, 07:39 AM
I would seriously doubt that we will find life (anywhere in the universe) that is not carbon based. I'm not saying that it is impossible, just very, very unlikely. No other element has carbon's propensity for forming long, branching chains, rings and other macro-molecules that we associate with life. Carbon's nearest chemical relative, silicon, does not (although it will form Si-O chains). Non carbon, non water and/or non oxygen life has been a staple of science fiction for decades, but all are very unlikely.

majic
2004-Feb-01, 01:51 PM
I found this rather interesting tidbit today, that basically tells us how locally there _is_ magnetic shielding to the extent we have it on earth! This gives interesting opportunities for life that evolved in the past, and might have survived & developed within these low-radiation zones. I was not aware of such local, suave conditions, were you ?



Although Mars no longer has a substantial magnetosphere, scientists think it once did and that the remnants of it still exist. In 1998 magnetometers on MGS discovered a network of magnetic loops arrayed across Mars's southern hemisphere. Locally, the magnetic fields arch over the surface like umbrellas, hundreds of km high. If you were standing on Mars in one of these areas, says Mitchell, you would measure a magnetic field about as strong as Earth's -- a few tenths of a gauss. Elsewhere on the planet the magnetic field is 100 to 1000 times weaker.

Indeed, it appears that Mars's magnetic umbrellas act like miniature magnetospheres. They ward off the solar wind in their vicinity and harbor pockets of gas ionized by solar UV radiation that would otherwise be blown away."

source : http://www.sciforums.com/archive/index.php/t-88

Ian Goddard
2004-Feb-02, 12:20 AM
Interesting find Majic. I think this (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=102219 08&dopt=Abstract) abstract describes the MGS discovery of said residual magnetization:


Science. 1999 Apr 30;284(5415):790-3.

Global distribution of crustal magnetization discovered by the mars global surveyor MAG/ER experiment

Vector magnetic field observations of the martian crust were acquired by the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) magnetic field experiment/electron reflectometer (MAG/ER) during the aerobraking and science phasing orbits, at altitudes between approximately 100 and 200 kilometers. Magnetic field sources of multiple scales, strength, and geometry were observed. There is a correlation between the location of the sources and the ancient cratered terrain of the martian highlands. The absence of crustal magnetism near large impact basins such as Hellas and Argyre implies cessation of internal dynamo action during the early Naochian epoch ( approximately 4 billion years ago). Sources with equivalent magnetic moments as large as 1.3 x 10(17) ampere-meter2 in the Terra Sirenum region contribute to the development of an asymmetrical, time-variable obstacle to solar wind flow around Mars.
Like the source you quote says, the magnetization seems to be in the southern region of Mars. The full study notes: "as the latitude of periapsis progressed southward in the AB2 phase (in 3 weeks), more frequent and intense crustal sources were detected [...] The most intense magnetic crustal sources detected by MGS-MAG/ER lie in the Terra Sirenum region (120 degree W to 210 degree W; 30 degree S to 85 degree S) where measured total field intensities at is similar to 100-km altitude exceeded 1500 nT (Figs. 3 and 4)."

Hutchca
2004-Feb-03, 03:28 PM
Well it was fun to think about but there goes my theory :-)

Raw images of the soil have been posted from the microscopic camera on Odyssey. It looks like there were no "granules" after all.
The ground seems to be a solid crust with a very rough texture.

http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/all/opportunity_p008.html
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/all/opportunity_m009.html

That texture looks like granules from a distance. Just goes to show you that photos don't always tell the truth.

No pictures yet of the soil after it's disturbed but my guess is the airbags just smoothed out the rough texture.

P.S. Kaptain K.
I agree that non carbon-based life would be VERY unlikely.
But I still think we should keep an eye out for any self replicating phenomenon no mater what chemical elements are involved.
We shouldn't have Organic Molecule tunnel vision.
That said, It would be very cool to find any organic molecules on Mars. Life or not.