Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Liquid water on Mars

Sou | 1:18 AM Go to the first of 17 comments. Add a comment
There has been a lot of speculation about what is going to be revealed at a NASA press conference in 15 minutes or so. Nature Geoscience put an embargo till 11:00 am eastern US time. So the news is now out.

There are signs of liquid water on Mars.

The people who'll be there at the press conference provided a clue. They are:
  • Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters
  • Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters
  • Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta
  • Mary Beth Wilhelm of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California and the Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Alfred McEwen, principal investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) at the University of Arizona in Tucson
Pick the odd one(s) out. Lujendra Oiha co-authored a paper in Science a couple of years ago about water on Mars. (Mary Beth Wilhelm is interested in organic biomarkers.)

Neel V. Patel at Inverse guessed it correctly.

Read about it at the Guardian. Here's a preview:
Liquid water runs down canyons and crater walls over the summer months on Mars, according to researchers who say the discovery raises the odds of the planet being home to some form of life.
The trickles leave long, dark stains on the Martian terrain that can reach hundreds of metres downhill in the warmer months, before they dry up in the autumn as surface temperatures drop.
You can (maybe) watch the NASA press conference, though I'm having trouble. Probably too many people tuned in (more than 72,800 people are trying to watch it!).


  1. This discovery has remarkable implications about whether "life" exists (existed) on Mars. Strategies for Mars exploration are even now being honed, especially for human missions now deemed much less risky (ha!) My first thought is that the types of salts (perchlorates) found near the poles, implied from Viking chemistry, and recent spectral studies suggest a very, very inhospitable surface environment at present - maybe not underground.
    Relevance to AGW: This discovery, following New Horizons' recent flyby of the Pluto system, is a validation of NASA's successful approach to Earth and space science/exploration.
    I'm been a planetary scientist for over 45 years (mostly former, now). I've never once in my career seen anything but the best in science, scientists, missions and analysis. How the "deniers" and WUWTers can continue their nonsense in view of such massive evidence accumulated by NASA (et al.) against their arguments may seem beyond comprehension. But, it is not. I and colleagues have always had to deal with the crackpot research proposal, the unsolicited (hand written) letters outlining preposterous theories, the (really) odd question in a seminar or the occasional visit almost always ending in the police, FBI or "men-in-white" intervention.
    What is different now is the Internet. Crackpots can put their theories out there for the World to read - it's no longer limited to a one-on-one with a scientist. We now have a large under-educated populace, adept at accessing the Internet, who lack the cognitive skills, innate or learned, to analyze the content. The result is a vocal denier/conspiracy community and a large, susceptible audience.
    I expect a loud cry from existing "NASA deniers" claiming evidence of alien life on Mars is being hidden from us. How can we not all see in light of their (conspiracy theorists) claims and evidence?
    It's all the same conspiracy and it will never go away. Per-Internet the problem was fairly easy to deal with and our response was amusement. Now the Michael Manns of the science community must waste real time dealing with it.
    Thank you Sou for doing such heavy lifting in the fight.

    P.S. The "personal interactions" to which I allude (there were about a dozen amongst colleagues in the late 70s and 80s) always ended up with a report of some sort of mental instability. I shudder to think how I would deal with such interactions in today's gun-infused society (United States).

    1. Look at what Rush Limbaugh is saying about it. And millions of people in the US listen to him and actually believe him.


    2. From what I've heard about the man, anyone who takes at face value anything that Rush Limbaugh says isn't worth the time of day.

  2. Personally, I don't buy it. The press, scientific websites and the media are having a field day, with National Geographic saying "NASA Finds 'Definitive' Liquid Water on Mars". Except it wasn't NASA, but eight scientists including one from NASA, and that their paper titled "Spectral evidence for hydrated salts in recurring slope lineae on Mars" found just what the title says. The authors say there's strong evidence for the hypothesis that there is liquid water on the slopes of Gale Crater, but can find no (as yet) plausible mechanism to explain its presence. My take on it (on my blog) is that the atmospheric pressure is too low (0.6% of Earth's) to allow the presence of liquid water even in strongly saturated salt solutions. Ice rapidly sublimates at that pressure, and the boiling point of pure water is 2°C. The paper mentions that temperatures up to 20°C occur in direct sunlight, but they don't mention atmospheric pressure at all.

    Read the National Geographic article:

    ...and the paper, and decide for yourselves. I'd like it to be true, but I remain unconvinced.


    1. The mechanism is saltwater underground, kept in by a frozen cap that melts seasonally. That was posited a long time ago, at least 15 years ago, but you can't really prove it until you poke around. What you'd expect to see if that cap melts and you get water gushing out is gullies (which caused the initial hypothesis) covered, briefly, in hydrated salts. Finding said hydrated salts was a prediction and has now been confirmed.

      I just wrote that off memory of the old research, then looked up the actual paper that you linked to, and lo and behold, the second paragraph of the intro says the same. Where do you get your claim that there's no mechanism?

    2. I was going to write a much longer comment after reading your blog, but I decided to respond here. I find your comment amusing since it parallels so apropos the musings of AGW-deniers and what this site so justifiably derides. Although it's just a blog, it's a public blog and, in the context of my comment above, junk science needs to be squashed immediately.
      Are you an expert in remote sensing of planetary surfaces, especially Mars? Unlikely.
      Are you an expert in physical chemistry as it applies to geological and atmospheric conditions on other planets, specifically Mars? Unlikely.
      Are you an expert in spectral remote sensing, especially interpretation of hyperspectral imagery of planetary surfaces? No. I do not even need to know your name to know this.
      In the light of the severe scrutiny applied to AGW-deniers at this site, why should I believe your sophomoric objections over Ojha et al. who are the experts in these fields? I don’t think you can give a valid reason, just "questions" and "claims. Unless you can come up with you OWN peer-reviewed article with supporting factual evidence, data and theoretical calculations showing why Ojha et al are incorrect, I'm not going to give much more than the time of day.
      Did NASA discover this? Yes.
      NASA pays for the development of the overarching solar system (and Mars) exploration road map and program through research contracts to scientists, as well as internal scientists.
      NASA pay, via research contracts to university and private sector (nonprofit) organizations, the scientist that conceived the HiRSE and CRIS instruments. NASA paid for these devices to be built, partially in-house and partially through private contractors (even small businesses). NASA launched the spacecraft bus and pays for the operation of the instruments. NASA, through research grants and contracts, pays the salaries of these researchers explicitly to plan, collect, analyze and report to the world through peer review articles on discoveries such as this. Indeed, this is NASA’s discovery albeit by means of the adept hands and nimble minds of its in-house and contractor scientists. I would go so far as to say that you and I participated in this discovery, as well, through our taxpayer dollars and continued interest and support of space exploration.
      What right do I have to make such bold, critical statements? Over 45 years as a (planetary) scientist (and entrepreneur). Look me up on Linkedin if you doubt it.
      By the way, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck - and nothing it does or looks like contradicts it being a duck and no other entity around can mimic the same things - it is most likely a duck. Or, as a scientist would say, "All evidence points to it being a duck."

    3. MH, the mainstream media seems to have failed to pick up on your startling 'scientific' results. You are going to call a press conference?

      Like you, I am surprised at NASA's findings. Unlike you I am not able to compress years of study and experience into a single night, so I recognise my opinion carries exactly zero weight.

  3. Water is a very common oxide in the universe. It flowing somewhere does not even hint closely at life. Mars is utterly dead, or if anything containing DNA is found there it will be proven to have originated on earth.

    Btw, there were pics suggesting incidental water flow years ago. The new pics merely confirm that.

    1. The pictures of gullies were hard to explain without water, but maybe there was a way. You can't explain spectra of hydrated salts away. So it is a big deal.

      The bit about life: as long as there's water on Earth, there's life. We drill kilometers deep into ocean sediment and we still see active life. That fuels the expectation there could be life on Mars (not that there definitely is, just that there could be).

    2. That's because, after H and He, O is the 3rd most abundant element in the Universe (C is 1/3 but 1/3 of O). H and He are the results of the Big Bang, O the result of billions of years of fusion and supernovae expulsion. In fact, "oxide" is the most common state of all elements: the Earth is essentially all (Fe, Mg)xSiO2 after all. Hydrides play a minor role in the interstellar medium in spite of the huge abundance of molecular H.

    3. Mars is utterly dead: I am of that opinion, too (no facts). But, I would not be astounded if ancient (billion year old) "evidence" was found. Finding that evidence, if it exists, may be very difficult.
      DNA: It is energetically easier to get DNA (intact) from Mars to Earth than vice versa. So greatly so, that "some" theorize that Earth's DNA ("us") was delivered here from elsewhere, possibly Mars.
      Water flowing on Mars: the evidence for water flowing on Mars is irrefutable as evidenced by MER (Spirit and Opportunity), MSL (Curiosity) and a myriad of other remote sensing systems. The geological evidence: cross bedding cause by hydraulic (flowing water), not aeolian processes (sand dune cross bedding is also seen in great abundance), as well as a myriad of other geologic land forms including ancient shorelines. But these events and actions occurred 100s of millions (even billions) of years ago. "Years ago" does not give the time scale justice compared to "last year." So, seeing a hydraulic process (water of some sort flowing) in action forming dynamic geologic features (dark flows) in the Current Era on Mars is remarkable even though there is pretty much irrefutable radar evidence (SHARAD/MRO) for buried glaciers scattered around (under the surface) of Mars and might be expected from time-to-time.
      Did CE-Mars start with Viking 1 landing (Earths' 1976), Mariner 4 flyby (Earth's 1964) or USSR's Mars M1-1 launch failure in (Earth's 1960). Something for future generations to argue about.

    4. Years ago, in the late 1990s, MGS started finding evidence of gullies that seemed recent. The evidence has been mounting since of modern-day water flowing on the surface episodically.

  4. Conspiracy ideation among "skeptics?" What conspiracy ideation among "skeptics"?

    Rush Limbaugh:


    "OK, flowing water on Mars. If we’re even to believe that, what are they going to tell us that means? That’s what I’m going to wait for. Because I guarantee, let’s just wait and see, this is September 28, let’s just wait and see. Don’t know how long it’s going to take, but this news that there is flowing water on Mars is somehow going to find its way into a technique to advance the leftist agenda. I don’t know what it is, I would assume it would be something to do with global warming and you can — maybe there was once an advanced civilization. If they say they found flowing water, next they’re going to find a graveyard."


    1. You can't write comedy like that.

    2. Since conspiracy theories are only tangentially related to reality, they can go in any direction you like, much like Martian water flowing over a sand dune.

      I'm beginning to like this epithet for AGW deniers that someone floated in the comments here a few days ago: 'climate change truthers'. It really sums up the way they think/behave :-)

    3. Hold on. It gets better:


      Let's look at this Mars business. Yesterday we had the most incredible announcement from NASA that -- and this is what is not reported in the Politico, I don't know if these local TV info people in Dallas even know what I said. I doubt that anybody reporting on what I said actually knows what I said. I doubt that any of them actually went to my website to read the transcript of what I said and then report on it. Even after reading what Media Matters took out of context and reported, their curiosity was not even such that they would go to my website to see if what they were being told was accurate or true. So yesterday, we have this big announcement that they found flowing water on Mars and that two-thirds of the planet used to be an ocean, two-thirds of the Northern Hemisphere used to be an ocean -- it was a mile deep. I raised the question, how do we know this? Have we probed a mile deep? We know that there's always been water on Mars because they have ice caps on the poles. So it's not news that there's water. That's why they said free-flowing water. But that wasn't the big deal. The big deal was that some scientist -- and it was important to call the guy a scientist -- some scientist said that a catastrophic event probably related to climate change on Mars resulted in this. I'm sorry folks, but that's not science and that's not even a good wild guess. How can there be a catastrophic event on Mars when there is nobody there to experience the catastrophe? How can there be a catastrophe on Mars when we can't even prove it? All we can do is wild guess it? And the very fact that my objection to this is being noted is proof positive that there is an agenda attached to this. Otherwise they would leave my comments alone. There is an agenda attached to it and they've got to try and discredit anyone, in this case me, who is attempting to attach whatever they're doing with Mars and the news they're reporting to the Democrat leftist agenda, which, of course, is climate change. And I predicted yesterday that it would not be very long before we would see evidence that my reaction and take on all this is accurate. And lo and behold, right here, in my formerly-nicotine stained fingers, from Yahoo! News, did NASA time its Mars announcement to coincide with The Martian, a movie starring Matt Damon?


      NASA wants to go to Mars. And Obama has turned NASA over to Muslim outreach, in case you've forgotten. NASA wants the money to go to Mars. It makes total sense in the world that they would time, NASA, the release of, "Look what we found! We found flowing water on Mars! On my god. there could be life! On my god, we gotta go we gotta go!" And here comes the movie. They throw in climate change relationships just for a little dot the I, cross the T, and magic happens.


      Snerdly is telling me that some of you may not know that when I mentioned NASA was converted to Muslim outreach by Obama that you might be turning the radio up or scratching your heads. No, he did. One of the first things he did when assuming oraffice in 2009 was to convert NASA's budget and the use of that money into Muslim outreach.


      NASA's been converted to Muslim outreach. They want to go back to Mars. Hell, that's fine. I mean, I'm not opposed to going to Mars. I'm big on exploring. The problem -- everything that Obama touches has been corrupted and by corrupted, I mean converted to liberalism. Everything that exists here exists for the purpose of advancing the Obama agenda.


  5. ==> "Since conspiracy theories are only tangentially related to reality, they can go in any direction you like, much like Martian water flowing over a sand dune."

    That is the beauty of conspiracies. Once you've snipped the tethers to plausibility for your theories, you can get much more creative. Look how far "skeptics" have been able to run with lowering the bar so that they don't have to evaluate the plausibility of an argument that tens of thousands of scientists have no integrity and so are conspiring to achieve political goals.


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