Meridiani Planum: 'Drenched'

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Meridiani Planum: "Drenched"
NASA Science News
March 2, 2004

Long ago, parts of Mars were soaked in liquid water, say scientists
analyzing data from NASA's Mars rover Opportunity.
March 2, 2004: Some rocks at Opportunity's landing site in Meridiani Planum
on Mars were once soaked in liquid water. Members of the Mars Exploration
Rovers' international science team presented the evidence today to news
reporters at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC.
"Liquid water once flowed through these rocks. It changed their texture, and
it changed their chemistry," said Cornell University's Steve Squyres, the
principal investigator for the science instruments on Opportunity and its
twin, Spirit. "We've been able to read the tell-tale clues the water left
behind, giving us confidence in that conclusion."
Here are some of the clues that water formerly pervaded an outcropping of
rocks where Opportunity has been working:
(1) The rover's alpha particle X-ray spectrometer found lots of sulfur in
the outcrop. Related clues from that instrument and the miniature thermal
emission spectrometer suggest the sulfur is in the form of sulfate salts
(similar to Epsom salts). On Earth, rocks containing so much salt either
formed in water or, after formation, were soaked in water a long time.
[see caption]
Above: These spectra show that a rock dubbed "McKittrick" near the Mars
Exploration Rover Opportunity's landing site at Meridiani Planum, Mars,
possesses the highest concentration of sulfur yet observed on Mars. [More]
(2) The rover's Moessbauer spectrometer detected jarosite, a hydrated iron
sulfate mineral that could result from the target rock spending time in an
acidic lake or acidic hot springs environment.
(3) Pictures from Opportunity's panoramic camera and microscopic imager show
many thin, flat holes--"about the size of pennies," says Squyres--in an
outcrop rock selected for close-up examination. These holes, or "vugs,"
match the distinctive appearance of Earth-rock vugs that form where crystals
of salt minerals grow inside rocks that sit in briny water then disappear by
eroding or dissolving.
The cameras have revealed spheres the size of BBs embedded in outcrop rocks.
Researchers call them "blueberries"-- although they're not blue, they're
gray. The spherules are not concentrated at particular layers within the
rock, as they would be if they originated outside the rock and were
deposited onto accumulating layers while the rock was forming. Instead, the
spherules are scattered. This means they are probably what geologists call
"concretions" that formed from accumulation of minerals coming out of
solution inside a porous, water-soaked rock.
(5) Some of the spherules in pictures from the microscope appear to have
stripes that correspond to layering of the matrix rock around them. This
would be consistent with the interpretation that the spherules are
concretions that formed inside a wet rock.
There is still much to learn: When was the area wet? And how long did the
wet conditions last? How was the water collected--e.g., in a salty lake or
sea? How deep was the water? Scientists and engineers plan to keep
Opportunity busy in the days ahead looking for more clues that might answer
some of these questions.
Visit
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for the latest information about Spirit
and Opportunity.
Reply to
Ron
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I'm guessing that since they didn't specify a time frame, "once" means billions of years ago?
While this is interesting news, did NASA really think that the general public would be so excited that Mars "once" had water that they felt they needed to call a special news conference to announce it?
Scientists are funny critters. ;)
How about a little information on what's happening there *now*?
Reply to
RandyW
You either "get it" and are interested or you don't. Not much can be done about it either way. As far as a political motive for the press conference: they achieved their mission objective as stated prior to launch. They have every right to crow about that, regardless if you think anyone out there is interested or not.
Reply to
Greg Crinklaw
When you consider the problems at the beginning with the Spirit Rover, it's amazing that they have learned as much as they have.
Reply to
George
March 3, 2004
Greg Cr> You either "get it" and are interested or you don't.
And from the evidence of your posts, you still don't get it.
Spoken by a true crackpot.
Wow, politics and science, the dynamic duo.
And you have every right to publish your retraction here.
We won't be holding our breath, crackpot.
Thomas Lee Elifritz
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Reply to
Thomas Lee Elifritz
I think Greg was referring to a more general phenomenon. A science writer once told me about the percentages of people who pay attention to this kind of stuff. Something like 50% (at least) of the (US) population simply doesn't care about space exploration. Period. They don't care about whether Mars was wet or dry, they won't read newspapers stories about Mars or space in general, etc. Of the remainder, most of the people only will read the occasional front-page story. The number of people who care at the level of following the news intensely and are willing to wonder about whether Mars was once wet or dry is actually fairly small.
Reply to
Joseph Lazio
But that has always been the way of exploration. It has never been easy or cheap. And most people didn't care that there was another continent on the other side of the Atlantic ocean until it became necessary to care.
Reply to
George
Unless you're planning on funding Mars exploration yourself, you'll have to face the fact that the funding NASA depends upon is political in nature. If people out there aren't "interested" how long do you think funding is going to hold out?
Having an "important announcement" end up being so mundane to those who pay the taxes for that funding is counter-productive.
I find the news interesting, but, really, doubt about Mars being a wet world "once" has long since dissipated, hasn't it? Was this really such Earth-shaking news or was it just validation of current thinking?
I applaud the awesome job these brilliant men and women are doing; I'm jealous. But sometimes they show themselves to be so out of touch with the "real world" that it's just baffles me.
-Randy
Reply to
RandyW
Yes, and most people didn't care about the advances in physics in the early 20th century, yet it ended WWII and was at the root of the fears of the cold war. Most people just don't have time for science in their daily lives, but they realize that it *is* important and I am always amazed at how many can be interested if you simply engage them and share your own wonder. It's the culture of the mindless TV media who are mostly incapable of engaging anyone about science and so give up on it entirely that I despise.
Reply to
Greg Crinklaw
Mundane? Hardly. What do you want, fireworks? A laser show? This wasn't a media event, it was a science press briefing, and a science press briefing *should* be restrained. The message that they found what they were looking for is what was reported in the press and that's all that was important or necessary. It is up to the press to do with the rest what they will. I am sure that in the coming months there will be some very interesting magazine articles complete with wonderful color images.
Reply to
Greg Crinklaw
Although what I find fascinating is that they sent Spirit to look for lacustrine materials and Opportunity to find hematite, and it's Opportunity that seems to be finding lacustrine materials. Of course, the science team won't get behind a standing-water explanation for the layered rocks at Meridiani yet... but I get the feeling that's only a matter of time.
Doug snipped-for-privacy@NOSPAM.mn.rr.com
Reply to
Doug...
Although I wouldn't count out the Spirit site yet, I get a strong feeling that as far as sedimentary structures are concerned, it may be a dud. I hope I end up eating those words. Even so, there is a lot of unique geology that can be conducted there. After all, it is another planet.
Reply to
George
The problem is that they don't pay well enough to hire REAL scientists to write for them. But that is my own opinion.
Reply to
George
Or that they teach the 'real scientists' how to write and communicate their findings well in their native language, much less another. "Science speak" is quite another language, you know.
Reply to
Jo Schaper
"Doug..." wrote
I wonder. Seems like they have more hurdles in the standing-water direction than in the "bottom up" direction, because standing water would lead to extraordinary claims that would be really newsworthy. Namely, that since there is no clear basin at Meridiani to hold the water (unlike at Gusev crater), a vast ocean would be implied. Which would imply a radically different atmosphere where such surface water could be stable. Which probably means greenhouse effect and billions of years of warm wetness. Hold the presses!
If the water flowed up from below and evaporated at the surface, then no ocean is required, no radically different atmosphere, and also would be consistent with the localized region of the hematite. Like a meteor hit and steamed up the neighborhood for a couple thousand years. Bang, ouch, hiss--so like Mars, that nasty planet.
Joe
Reply to
Joe Knapp
And yet there have been over 6.5 BILLION hits on the Mars Rover Web site since the landings. Probably over 7 billion by now. That suggests that there is more interest than might otherwise have been expected. It is not credible that a small amount of people made all those hits.
Reply to
Chosp
Yep. And I was on the road when the press conference occurred so I had to watch it on streaming video later in the evening at the C-SPAN archive. Even nearly 12 hours after the press conference I was not able to keep the stream going for more than two or three minutes at a time because the servers were overloaded... I also note that today that two of the top three videos at C-SPAN are MER press conferences. And you watch, by later today or tomorrow the Tuesday press conference will be number one.
Somebody out there cares. It's the media with their heads stuck up their butts that don't get it. To these people science is a sort of distraction from "real" life; a fluff piece to be tacked on at the end of the "real" news. I was talking to (of all people) my Mother the other day. She has never shown a great deal of interest in science. Yet she surprised me when she railed against NASA for not doing more to tell her what was going on so she could follow MER more closely. Heck, even my five year old has kids and teachers at his preschool excited about MER. My experience is that every-day people are ready to get excited, but the media hasn't given them the chance.
Remember how CNN covered Pathfinder? They showed most the press conferences live without interruption. They let their reporter on site have the time he needed to show people what it was to be excited about. They had hours of coverage the day it landed. Now, in 2004, the powers that be at CNN have utterly failed at this! When Spirit landed they choose to run Larry King for the 3rd time that day (in the middle of the night eastern time) rather than let O'Brian spend more than 5 minutes at a time covering it. I wondered why the heck they sent a reporter at all. And on Monday they actually put an on-screen countdown timer on a MER report by Miles O'Brian to see if he could keep it to less than 20 seconds. They all seemed to think it was funny! All this thanks no doubt to the dumbing-down influence of Fox news, who do not cover mars at all as far as I can tell. It's a sort of self-fullfilling prophesy: the media is afraid to cover it because they fear the interest isn't there and by not covering it appropriately they fail to create a large scale interest.
Reply to
Greg Crinklaw
This is quite true. I used to work at a "Science Museum", where the editor of the monthly newsletter was more concerned with being politically correct, than whether an article contained any actual science.
Reply to
George
Yeah, but if they are like me, they have downloaded some 500 images, and if you use that as a average hit per person, then only about 14 million have actually gone to the web site. A substantial number, no doubt, but still not larger than the entire population of the planet, most of whom don't even own a computer.
Reply to
George
Actually, I was expecting something more spectacular...The hype suggested it was more. I was particularly interested in the report our local news had about mud on mars. They had some one from the Viking team showing how bright spots in the tracks had to be ice made from the water being squeezed out by the wheels as they drove along. Mud means water...water means...
chris in napa
Greg Cr> RandyW wrote:
Reply to
chris

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