NASA Headquarters Mars-Rover Opportunity Press Briefing on March 2

Donald Savage Headquarters, Washington March 1, 2004 (Phone: 202/358-1547)
Guy Webster Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
(Phone: 818/354-5011)
NOTE TO EDITORS: N04-038
NASA HEADQUARTERS MARS-ROVER OPPORTUNITY PRESS BRIEFING MARCH 2
Significant findings from NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, now exploring Meridiani Planum on Mars, will be announced at a press briefing at 2 p.m. EST, Tuesday, March 2, 2004, at NASA Headquarters, Washington.
The briefing will originate from the James E. Webb Auditorium, 300 E St., S.W., Washington, and will be carried live on NASA TV with two-way question-and-answer capability for reporters covering the event from participating NASA centers.
Dr. Ed Weiler, Associate Administrator, Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters, will make opening remarks. The panelists include:
--Professor Steve Squyres, Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Principal Investigator, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. --Professor John Grotzinger, MER science team geologist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass. --Dr. Benton C. Clark III, MER science team member and Chief Scientist of Space Exploration, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Astronautics Operations, Denver --Dr. Joy Crisp, MER Project Scientist, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. --Dr. Jim Garvin, Lead Scientist for Mars and the Moon, NASA Headquarters
NASA Television is available on AMC-9, transponder 9C, C-Band, located at 85 degrees west longitude. The frequency is 3880.0 MHz. Polarization is vertical, and audio is monaural at 6.80 MHz. Audio of the broadcast will be available on voice circuit at the Kennedy Space Center on 321/867-1220.
For a live webcast of the briefing and information about NASA TV on the Internet, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/ntv
-end-
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Being held in Washington instead of Pasadena--yowsa.
Joe
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MSNBC says they will announce finding brine in the soil, or just under the top of it. Somebody on alt. sci .planetary predicted that a while back, repeatedly.
rj
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randyj wrote:

Yeah, well, it's difficult to explain that white stuff that keeps showing up in the rover tracks and trenches. Something white is clearly being pressed out of the soil. Levin has been talking to the press a lot today and he's claiming it's frost released from brine in the soil (that's where the press reports are coming from). Yeah: mud. Now that woudl be something. If it is frost it should be easy to say so given their instrument suite. If it is another form of powder that would be interesting too. Frost seems the simplest explanation. I haven't taken the time to look, but if it is frost it might be expected to sublimate in the sun after a bit... "Before and after" pictures of tracks and trenches anyone? Or maybe they held thos back (couldn't blame them if they did). Did anyone see the compressed soil microscopic imager results from Spirit the other day? Squish--and viola, the soil (which already had some weird -- snow-like drifts in it) turns white. A piece of this compacted soil apparently stuck to the device, pulling it away. The white layer is very thin and only on the surface...
Hey -- they went there looking for evidence of past liquid water. It'd be interesting enough to warrant an HQ press briefing if they not only found liquid water, but liquid water present today! And if that's the case and this brine can move in large quantities when heated, maybe the ancient warm wet mars hypothesis is about to take a licking.
But my guess is that there are other interesting results too. More subtle perhaps, but maybe just as interesting as far as our overall picture of mars goes.
Those blue spherules are awfully fine grained and homogenous. And it looks to me as if their abraded material created a very fine, almost graphite-like dust that was polished into the surface of the rock by the abrasion tool. And then there is the part about their being shiny when found underground. And the apparent dichotomy of lighter spherules and darker ones that lie near another on the surface yet are very well segregated... I haven't a clue what to make of that. Very odd.
And then there was the hint that the matrix has large amounts of sulfur. I am not a geologist, but that rock sure looks a lot like the stuff you see at Yosemite or Lassen to me. Remeber, that was a preliminary result and they quit talking after that. What other elements did they find? I envy this team for being in the position to put this amazing jig saw puzzle together! How much fun must that be?
One thing has seemed clear to me for quite a while now: this mission has the potential for some extraordinary science. And I'll bet tomorrow's briefing is just the beginning of a long, interesting debate. Note to textbook writers: be ready to start rewriting mars!
Greg
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http://www.copperas.com/astro/trenchday.jpg (hazcam, 24 hour lapse, no change)
Joe
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Joe Knapp wrote:

Interesting! Thanks Joe. All the more reason to look forward to tomorrow.
--
Greg Crinklaw
Astronomical Software Developer
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wrote

tomorrow.
Also interesting is the bio of one panelist:
"Dr. Benton C. Clark is Chief Scientist, Flight Systems, at Lockheed Martin Astronautics. He received his Ph.D. in Biophysics from Columbia University in 1968. He was responsible for conceiving and developing the x-ray fluorescence spectrometers used for geochemical analyses of Martian soil samples onboard the Viking landers. He was Co-I for development of the lightflash detector and sunshade for the Particle Impact Analyzer (PIA) experiment, flown successfully on the Giotto mission. He has introduced the concept of key roles for cometary particulates and formation of comet ponds as an enabling step for the abiotic origin of life. He chairs the External Advisory Committee for the NASA Center for Research and Training in Exobiology at the University of California San Diego and Salk Institute. He has received the NASA Public Service Medal, the Wright Brothers Award, the Air Force Service Medal, and has been selected Inventor of the Year for Martin Marietta Corporation and Author of the Year for Martin Marietta Astronautics."
A couple of his papers:
"Superbug: Making a Living on Current-Day Mars" http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/mgs/sci/fifthconf99/6223.pdf
"Acid Snowbank as Source, Sink and Abode" http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/sixthmars2003/pdf/3106.pdf
quote:
Persistent deposits of water ice may exist at the surface, even in certain non-polar regions on Mars. Their origins can include: atmospheric precipitation (snow); surface adsorption; clathrate formation; upward percolation of H2O vapor or wicking of liquid created by subsurface heat sources; or deflation of overburden to expose buried ice or ice-rich permafrost (for purposes of expediency, such surfaceexposed deposits will be referred to in this paper as "snowbanks", regardless of the source or mechanism of transport of H2O to the surface). Many of the characteristics discussed here are relevant to any exposed body of ice. Such deposits may have unique roles as a source of H2O, a sink of chemically active gases injected into the atmosphere, and through various favorable factors, providing a haven for growth and reproduction of biological organisms on Mars which would, on Earth, be considered extremeophiles.
Snowbank Interactions with the Atmosphere:
Long-term survivabity of ice against sublimation is abetted by location on anti-solar slopes and/or covering by high albedo, low thermal inertia material. Location in a natural shaded cavity is a mechanism often observed in rugged mountainous terrain on Earth for the preservation of snow deposits well into summertime. Deposits can even summer-over, depending on shadowing, local weather, and climatological conditions. Winds and dust loads in the atmosphere provide varying inputs of new material, warm or moist atmosphere, shielding of solar insolation, and erosive forces. The high degree of eolian activity on Mars maintains a source of atmospheric dust fallout, which coats the surface ice and may, especially if saltation is active at that site, admix with it to some depth, depending on the degree of snowbank porosity. Albedo is lowered, so that heat transfer from solar insolation is amplified, but a surface debris mantle, not unlike that hypothesized for the inactive portions of cometary surfaces, can develop and evolve. These concentrations of water ice can be in communication with the atmosphere to an extent that many other reservoirs, deep underground or at polar locations, are not.
Acidification of the Martian Snowbank:
Gases in the martian atmosphere which are chemically reactive with H2O will be taken up and sequestered from their source. Such gases arise from all magmatic exhalations, whether explicit extrusive releases or seepage through vents, fumeroles, or sulfataras. Typical releases include the sulfur and chlorine-containing gases as well as water, and less reactive gases such as CO2 and CH4. Impacts by large bolides will also cause the release of S from the relatively S-rich igneous rocks (based on martian meteorites). Reduced compounds, such as H2S, S, SO, SO2, and CH4 will be quickly converted into their high oxidation state analogs by the plethora of oxidative species (atomic oxygen, OH radical, H2O2, superoxide ion, ozone) that reside in the martian atmosphere as a result of the intense UVmediated photochemical environment. As a result, SO3 will be readily available from these transient events to combine with the H2O ice. These two molecules have an extremely high affinity for reacting together, and once they do the resulting solution is both hygroscopic and reactive with SO3.
Consequences of the Acidic Snowbank:
Liquefaction and Geological Processes:
As seen in the accompanying phase diagram, several eutectics are formed, each with freezing points which are depressed relative to pure water or, for that matter, sulfuric acid "neat" (pure). These freezing points range from -34 to -74 C, well below the depressing capabilities of most salts and below peak and average temperatures, respectively, in non-polar regions on Mars (polar temperatures of -125 C cause freeze-up, slowing the process to one limited by solid-state diffusion). The first eutectic, which has the strongest depressant effect, requires only 1 molecule of SO3 per 10 molecules of H2O, and hence will form in the earliest stages of conversion of native ice to acidic ice. Liquefaction is therefore physically possible, without even accounting for supercooling effects. The proportion of material to the solid phase can alter the composition of the residual liquor. Physical affects on the macroscale can vary from solid plasticity to slush to free liquid, depending on the exact chemical makeup and bulk temperature. Macro-movement is inevitable in response to gravitational forces, resulting in regimes encompassing sliding, creep and free flow. A premier example of intense current interest is the side-wall gullies found on crater walls at high latitudes. Many other less obvious manifestations should occur, however, from sapping to analogs of glacial activity.
Abode for Extremeophiles:
On the microscale, liquefactions enable all the special benefits that render liquid H2O so beneficial to life forms on Earth (mobility for transport of nutrients and waste products, consumption as a chemical reactant; stabilization of macromolecular tertiary structure; as a diluent; as a catalyst; as a medium for organism motility). From the standpoint of microorganisms, this is perhaps the single most critical prerequisite to their ability to function metabolically. The acidic snowbank therefore provides an abode for these organisms which can survive the low pH of the environment. Acid-compatible extremeophiles are abundant on Earth, and encompass a variety of detailed lifestyles. However, the acidic habitats on our planet are almost always at high temperatures, the hydrothermal and sulfateric environments associated with magmatic centers of activity. Such environments are possible on Mars as well, but the overall aridity and very low pressure of the atmosphere mitigate against the longevity of hydrothermal regions, unless buried and isolated from communion with the surface.
Acidophiles on earth often are hyperthermophilic. Any putative martian organism in this environment must, rather, be a psychrophile as well as acidophile, and able to function at stressingly low levels of water activity, hence an osmophile. On the other hand, such organisms need not be as xerophilic (desiccationloving) like their non-ice dwelling cousins in the surface regolith of Mars. Energy metabolism may take advantage of a number of possibilities. Sunlight can penetrate ice and even "dirty" ice, which attenuates the lethal, short wave-length UV that penetrates the thin atmosphere to reach the surface of Mars. Hence, phototrophs may exist within this ecoenvironment. A number of chemolithotrophs are acidophiles, but their typical energy source is from the oxidation of reduced iron or sulfur compounds. It has been proposed that H2 is almost sufficiently abundant in the martian atmosphere to support sulfate reduction. The source of such sulfate could that thought to be in the ubiquitous soil, and the resulting sulfide could be recycled in a sufuretum ecology to produce sulfate again. Nutrient availability is enhanced in many respects. Low pH solubilizes many ions, especially the metal cations (e.g., transition elements) that enable enzymes to have high specificity and catalytic kinetic effect. It is also now known that the shergottite martian meteorites can be extracted with acidic solution to yield abundant phosphate and other nutrients.
etc. etc. etc. (See link!)
Sulfur has been detected at high levels at the site. Could the spherules be life?
Joe
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wrote

I'll stick my neck out, again, and predict the findings to be released tomorrow. If I believe that the spheres are sponge gemmules certain conclusions follow. Once the rumored brine discussion is completed, the findings should be that Meridiana has signs of present underground water ice and that surface water existed there in the very recent past. Perhaps as recently as a few centuries.
Also the hematite will be a product of water, not of weathering. And the high sulfur readings, now this is a stretch, come from the rocks ...and the soil, and are sulfates.
Microbial sulfate reduction in the tissue of the cold-water sponge. http://webdoc.gwdg.de/diss/2003/hoffmann/hoffmann.pdf
"Sponges and sulfate reducers an ancestral symbiosis?"
"Several lines of evidence indicate a long standing symbiotic relationship between sponges and sulfate reducing bacteria. SRB were among the oldest organisms on earth."
"Combined sulfur isotope and molecular biological studies provide indirect evidence for a connection between the evolution of the microbial sulfur cycle and the metazoans."
"...the ubiquitous sulfate reducers might have been advantageous under low and unstable oxygen environments"
"A recent molecular biological study suggests that the common ancestor of the metazoa was a sponge, or a sponge like organism. Although many hypothesis try to explain the transition from unicellular organisms to multicellular organization, only three basic models seem possible."
"...offered the hypothesis that sponges derived from a union of choanoflagellate colonies and different bacteria, in which the eukaryotic partners evolved mechanisms to control an assemblage of prokaryotes."
Jonathan
s

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Most of the spheres are echinoderms, like crinoids, very similar to species that were on the Earth 530,000,000 years ago. They look like sand dollars, with armor segments, linear rows of dots, and also have slots and pores. Take any image, for instance from Sol 014, and do some contrast and brightness adjustments in a photo editor program. You will soon discover that they are NOT the featureless little balls of mineral that they have been claiming! I have found a number of species already, very similar to fossils here on Earth, but they are definitely not terrestrial species! Now, FLAME ON ALL YOU WANT! I have absolute proof and will also have the last laugh, my friends. Oh, and some of my data is posted on my site now, just so you can judge for yourself. http://home.cfl.rr.com/aichip
Cheers!
Chip Shults
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What you have are convincing pictures of what appears to be life. You could be right, they remind me of the sea urchins we find here at the coast. We also have pictures of the loch ness monster, big foot and ufos. It won't be proof until we have one in our hands for a little more analysis
chris in napa
Sir Charles W. Shults III wrote:

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Having published works on Mississippian-aged crinoids, I have to say that you are about as clueless as they come. As for them being featureless, I know of no one at JPL who has made that statement. If you know of a link where someone at JPL made that statement, perhaps you coul provide it for us. But you are correct, in that they are certainly not featureless. Unfortunately the features they do have are far to small to resolve meaningfully with the microscopic camera on the Rovers. I was able to identify a tiny crystal protruding from one of the spherules, yet the resolution was not high enough to determine with any certainty what the crystal form was (Although I think it may have be orthrombic or tetragonal). If it is either of these, that would leave out both jarosite and hematite as possible candidates for the spherules.
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I have posted the latest images of the spheres on my site now. Cut ahead to the views of the organisms. I did extensive frame layering to resolve the finer features and still had a tough time with the poor contrast. Then I wrote a differential analysis routine that revealed a good deal of detail. On the two lower spheres (which are from the Sol 014 images) you can see starfish patterns, groups and lines of warts and dots, and in some newer images (which I will release as soon as I get a go-ahead from my lawyer) you can see that some have TWO mouths- that is a very surprising find to me. Urchins have small beak-like mouth openings that are recessed into their integuments. This exact feature is visible on the spherules that are turned properly. But all show excellent contrast compared to the original images now. I just about have this enhancement thing whipped- soon I will post fully detailed images of all the spheres that I can get images of. Also, I am working hard to resolve the interior features of the cut spheres. I can make out some basic features already- for instance, there appears to be a roughly pentagonal inner symmetry and some sort of reticulated structure like a gut- but the information is still too hard to pick out. But these spheres show eyespots, rows of plates- they look bio-mechanical almost. Oh, and George- the "tiny crystal" was likely one of the eyespots- they can protrude a bit and are surrounded by pentagonal or hexagonal areas of plates and dots, so it could very easily be mistaken for an inorganic crystal. And, no offense taken about the "clueless" remark. I passed my data and methods along to JPL today- I have a good, long established lead on their releases now, so it's safe to say that once they realize that I have found the answers, they cannot dispute them.
Cheers!
Chip Shults
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their
turned
fully
they
Mr. Sluts, you are not only clueless, you are insane. Who do you think you are fooling? The geological community? Anyone else in the scientific community? I don't think so. Take you toys and post them on alt.conspiracy, and maybe you will find a crowd that gives a shit about your non-science.
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you
your
I have to say thanks for pointing out that you found my error in using the term "crinoid" where I meant "echinoderm" and that I have corrected. It was a simple mistake, just as anyone could make when typing as rapidly as I was. But I don't understand your vitriol. What is the problem with people finding something and then sharing it? I have posted easy to follow steps to verify my findings, if you would like to try them. Being insulting gains you nothing, but it reveals that you are a mean spirited individual. Nonetheless, I do benefit from your feedback, because I do tend to listen and sort out the wheat from the chaff. You probably do know something about crinoids. But as for fooling people, I have no intention to do so at all. Instead, I want people to see and judge for themselves. It is only natural that I would be excited due to the magnitude and detail of these findings. I certainly could not have found these things without the intense efforts and dedication of the NASA and JPL people, nor would I claim otherwise. I do expect that there will be some shock, outrage, and downright revulsion at the thought that we are not alone in the universe. Perhaps you have some deep-seated religious training that prevents you from considering the fact that Earth is not the unique "jewel of creation" that so many zealots insist it is. So, we had two hits in this solar system; two unique worlds where life took hold. It bodes very well for other places such as Callisto and Europa, in my humble opinion. What does that imply for the galaxy as a whole? I have the very strong conviction that our galaxy is literally teeming with life- a phenomenon that chemistry and physics pretty much dictates, even based on what we knew before Opportunity started sending back its images. Even the Oort cloud bodies are covered in tholin, that reddish-brown organic material formed when abiotic compounds are exposed to energy (such as stellar ultraviolet or a lightning discharge.) Would you prefer that we found alien life in the form of some silly science-fiction format; the skies opening and gruesome slimy, pop-eyeballed monsters with rayguns demanding women? We are privileged to have found some solid data that confirms what we have suspected but had no second samples to learn from- that life will begin wherever and whenever it possibly can. So no, George, I am not trying to "fool" anyone and no, I am not "clueless". I make my living in research and have worked in technical and scientific fields all of my life. I do not subscribe to the conspiracy theories, I do not support the ideas of "black helicopters" sneaking up to nab citizens who step out of line or discover some dark secrets. I do not think that alien invaders are out to get us, or anything of the sort. I have simply found that the spherules are fossils, similar to sea urchins, and that this tiny finding has great implications for what we think and know. If you dislike my enthusiasm, then too bad, for you are then as fossilized as the spherules and will live your days out picking on others, hating those who smile and take joy in their lives, and leaving a dark cloud of ill-will over all those you interact with. And have a nice day.
Cheers!
Chip Shults
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It
I
The vitriol comes from an impatience with having to weed through the kooks to find those who truly know what they are talking about. You obviously do not fit the latter. Why? Two simple reasons. 1st, there is not a reputable scientist on the planet, let alone a reputable paleontologist who would even suggest that the spherules are anything but inorganic mineral concretions. When you say things like "I have simply found that the spherules are fossils, similar to sea urchins", huge red flags go up. I've studied echinoderms for many years, both fossil, and living. I have published on eight new species of Mississippian-aged crinoids from the Mid-Continental U.S. (http://www.bioone.org/bioone/?request=get-abstract&issn 22-3360&volume 4&issue&page72). I presently have a 17" diameter (tip of appendage to tip of appendage) live green brittlestar that I've been raising for over ten years. So I do know a little about Echinoderms.
There is simply no evidence whatsoever that Mars ever attained the complexity to have produced an environment that could have evolved such an advanced life form as an echinoderm. These animals are very complex struturally, and are the first animals to show up in earth's fossil record with a protected spinal nerve. It took at least 2.5 billion years of organic evolution in a tropical/subtropical oceanic environment for this trait to first appear on the earth. There is no evidence that Mars ever had such an ocean, or even a large body of water for a long enough period of time for such advanced animals to have evolved. It almost certainly was never warm enough. All echinoderms are community fauna, by which I mean that they by and large live on reefs within a specific ecosystem. And all are predators and filter feeders (a specialized form of predator). Since that is the case, there has to be something for them to predate if they are to survive. There are no known solitary echinoderms, at least none that I am aware of, and none that live as a singular fauna group, as would necessarily be the case with these alleged "fossil" echinoderms that you think you have found on Mars.
Secondly, to say without hesitation that you have found echinoderms on Mars, while Johanson over in outer slobovia is claiming that they are sponges (two completely different animals, I might add), especially in light of the evidence that has to date been presented by JPL, just raises alarm bells that you not only have no clue as to what you are talking about, but are, in fact, trying to draw attention to yourself to feed some egotistical need that you have. The whole concept that complex lifeforms that evolved on earth could also have evolved on Mars is something that I relegate to the catagory of the anthropomorphosing of Mars. And to suggest that NASA or JPL would take seriously any evidence you think you have that these spherules are echinoderms, or echinoderm-like is simply stretching credulity to its limits.
As for any notion that my objection stems from some religious conviction that life cannot exist anywhere else, that is simply hogwash, since I am not a religious man. Do I think that life exists elsewhere? Given the size of the universe, I think that if there is no life anywhere else but on earth, it would seem to be, as Carl Sagan put it, "a terrible waste of space". Having said that, I do not believe that higher life forms ever evolved on Mars. Bacteria? I think that an argument can be made that bacteria, or some similar form could have evolved, given what is currently known about the planet. Do I think that some form of life currently exists on Mars? I don't honestly know. The possibility certainly exists, at least in the subsurface. Do I think that these spherules are anything but inorganic in nature? No.
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George wrote:

God, ain't that the truth. I get so tired of all these failed human beings who live in their own fantasy world. Some are all the way in, others half in, and others still with just one toe in. Regardless it's such a big waste and a huge distraction from any real discussion. Why not take your own advice George and just kill file this guy along with ellifritz and the other loons? I'm doing it right now.
--
Greg Crinklaw
Astronomical Software Developer
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kooks
Well, you certainly don't have to tell me twice. Done.
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I second that decision.
Done also.
--
- Alan Kilian <alank(at)timelogic.com>
Director of Bioinformatics, TimeLogic Corporation 763-449-7622
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with
You are a brave soul, posting your telephone number on the newsgroups.
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Oh, it's only been 20 years now that I've been posting to Usenet Newsgroups with my full information.
Currently about 25% of my incoming e-mail gets through procmail and spamassassin and I consider that not too bad.
--
- Alan Kilian <alank(at)timelogic.com>
Director of Bioinformatics, TimeLogic Corporation 763-449-7622
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