Water on Mars, NASA reveals

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It’s easy to see how surface flowing water could help support future, human life on the martian surface- (too bad there’s not time to include this tidbit in the new Matt Damon movie!) But I can’t tell if this changes the odds of finding native bacterial life on mars. Can water this salty support terrestrial bugs?


Early consensus seems to be that being soaked in perchlorates will kill almost but not quite every microbe we know of on Earth, and that of the remaining bugs that are okay with it, none would survive these kinds of concentrations (even allowing for ideal conditions otherwise). The truth of that statement is presumably pending us finding out exactly which perchlorates, what concentration, and so forth.

Interestingly enough, the earthly bugs that can eat perchlorates release free O2 when they do it, which is a pretty rare feat in nature if you don’t count photosynthesis, but I’m guessing this will not be our ticket to a free oxygen atmosphere. Oh well.

Of course, who even cares if terrestrial bugs can do it. What we need to know is, can Martian bugs?


How far away is the closest location where the MRO spotted the flows from where Opportunity is right now? Would it take years/decades/centuries for Opportunity to reach there at its speed of 0.000258 miles per hour? [26.4 miles in 4264 days.]


So what you’re saying is, if I’m ever stranded on the surface of Mars there are better ways to obtain water for my potato plants than burning hydrazine?


Theres an interview on youtube where andy weir where he says as he was publishing the book curiosity showed there was enough water in the soil to just bake it out. Still less fun than hydrazine though.

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Cool, but… Can we now go to the moons covered in ocean?


Months apparently! But they don’t want to get too close, since Opportunity wasn’t sterilized


This is no surprise at all. The existence of a water ice cap at the pole has been well known for many years. Given that Mars has seasons of warm and cold, it is obvious that at the fringes of the water ice cap there would be seasonal melts and re-freezing.

I have always wondered and have never seen a solid technical rationale for why NASA sent the rover missions closer to the equator to look for signs of ancient water rather than closer to the polar regions where season liquid water was likely/bound to exist.

As you say, the one is a virtual known and the other is a mystery. Where would you send the robot?


No snow tires.


Most of the rovers (except Curiosity) are solar powered, and require daily instructions from Earth to do their operations and navigate. They also landed with crazy configurations like airbags, and supersonic parachutes that stage into rocket-powered platform cranes. These require light, pretty level ground, line of sight to Earth after landing, and other factors that may necessitate the equatorial landing.

TL;DR it’s much easier to land and stay in contact with a thing near the equator. How badly would it affect NASA’s continued operations if they sent a billion dollar probe out to Mars to try and land on a Polar icecap, but something goes wrong, they can’t get into contact with it by nightfall, and by morning the batteries are completely dead and won’t take a charge anymore?


Two words:

Send. People.


Send better robots.
Send a swarm of robots.

Drop in a central co-ordinating computer, drop in relay towers all around the planet, then drop in little robots… little BB-8 rolly robots… with specialist sensors to explore, examine and send data back.


Robots are shitty scientists, and with the delay in time, you’re relying on the robot to perform complex tasks autonomously. What a robot focuses on is inevitably going to be limited by a number of constraints that make the job done by a human quicker and easier. With humans on the surface, you get the following benefits:

  • The massive collateral technological benefits from having to develop the technology to take humans on extended missions to another planet.
  • The retrieval of critical samples to earth for extensive study, rather than the limitations set by whatever equipment happened to be on the robot. Let’s say that they find a germ on Mars. A microbe which has something curiously like RNA in it… You’re going to want to be able to check that result with higher resolution in equipment that isn’t basically the scientific instrument version of an all-in-one printer.
  • Speedy human intuition. AI is clever, but sometimes there is no substitute for having a scientist on the surface to take in a panoramic view and go, “Hmm, that’s odd…”
  • The incalculable and intangible benefits of having humanity look up and go, “Wow… we can do that.” People use science to build important things, but romance makes people want to use science to build really important things.
  • Development costs for robotic exploration has been climbing rapidly. Building better robots means less funding for other deserving projects. Getting humans to Mars spends money too, but at least the range of research topics is wider.

But hey, don’t believe me? Read this.


The logical place to send humans to, isn’t the surface, but somewhere in Mars, orbit, probably Deimos. The delta Vee is much cheaper both for getting there, and for returning to Earth. Rocket fuel, groceries, sample return, all that can happen light seconds away, with human supervision, and then brought back to the station.

The first human footprints on Mars won’t be some epic voyage, it’ll be a quick jaunt to the surface to fix something that can’t be fixed with robots.


From landing on Duna numerous times, and never successfully making it all the way back to Kerbin, I’m inclined to agree. It’s much easier dV-wise to just orbit the planet, or land on a moon and send down a small tincan lander.


This rationale may be the party line but it begs the question - if the mission objectives were to find evidence of liquid water and hence the possibility of life, then why design rovers to go where there is only a hope of traces of long gone water?

The problems of rover power and communications have engineering solutions - for example; orbiting solar power stations that would transmit power to rovers via microwaves to charge rover batteries and be the communications hub between Mars surface and Earth.

Where would I send missions? Well, the dark dunes in the northern part of Vastitas Borealis or the Olympia Planitia or both. There are many sites in the relatively temperate band between the extent of seasonal frost and the boundary where substantial ice forms during winter where the ice undoubtedly melts to water during the Martian spring.

Of course, the real reason is budget. Lacking the budget, the missions were designed to do what was easiest rather than what was the most important. A sad fact of life in our 30+ years in the wilderness of “drown government in the bath tub” right wing politics of no vision.


They have vision. Lots of it. It’s just very near sighted, and locked onto money so tightly that if you break their gaze their eyeballs are liable to bleed.

I’m not a planetary scientist, nor do I play one on TV, so I gotta leave it up to you about where water would be most likely found. From what I recall, most of the rovers were supposed to find “signs of water” rather than current liquid water. And Phoenix was supposed to look for shallow sub-surface ice, and was in fact sent to the northern polar region, to dig its little ditch and then be frozen over. It succeeded with flying colors and did find shallow sub-surface ice.


I don’t thing Opportunity would have any chances to copu…

Oooooh! THAT kind of sterilization.