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Thread: Curiosity Rover Finds Organics & Seasonal Methane Patterns On Mars

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    Radical Centrist BigLeRoy's Avatar
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    Curiosity Rover Finds Organics & Seasonal Methane Patterns On Mars

    The Mars Curiosity Rover has made some pretty significant discoveries on Mars, just announced today, and described in a couple of articles in the latest issue of Science:


    https://www.sciencedaily.com/release...0607142916.htm

    In the second paper, scientists describe the discovery of seasonal variations in methane in the Martian atmosphere over the course of nearly three Mars years, which is almost six Earth years. This variation was detected by Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite.

    Water-rock chemistry might have generated the methane, but scientists cannot rule out the possibility of biological origins. Methane previously had been detected in Mars' atmosphere in large, unpredictable plumes. This new result shows that low levels of methane within Gale Crater repeatedly peak in warm, summer months and drop in the winter every year.


    LeRoy: This is all HIGHLY interesting, and I think a biological origin for these seasonal methane patterns is not only possible, but may even be within the bounds of probable. We will need to DIG DEEPER into the Martian soil to find any evidence of currently existing life. The Insight probe is on its way to Mars currently, on schedule for a November landing, and it is prepared to dig deeper than any previous Martian probe, and it will be followed by the Exo Mars rover in 2020, which will have much more advanced capabilities for searching for life.
    Last edited by BigLeRoy; 7th June 2018 at 08:36 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BigLeRoy View Post
    The Mars Curiosity Rover has made some pretty significant discoveries on Mars, just announced today, and described in a couple of articles in the latest issue of Science:


    https://www.sciencedaily.com/release...0607142916.htm
    Iíd like to see them send probes to the poles. Thatís the best shot at finding something.
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    Southern Strategy Liberal OldGaffer's Avatar
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    Deleted to forestall derailment proceedings against me....

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    Radical Centrist BigLeRoy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arkady View Post
    I’d like to see them send probes to the poles. That’s the best shot at finding something.
    I totally agree. We tried to do that with this mission, but it failed, one of the more disappointing failures in NASA's Mars program:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Polar_Lander

    But yes, we should try again. I would aim for the EDGE of one of the polar ice caps, and then dig deep.

    And, while we're on the subject, I am gobsmacked by the fact that the U.S. has never sent a robotic rover to explore the south lunar pole of the Moon, where we think there is some substantial but unknown amount of water, protected by being in eternal shadow from the Sun. That would be such a CHEAP mission for NASA, easily less than $50 million.
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigLeRoy View Post
    I totally agree. We tried to do that with this mission, but it failed, one of the more disappointing failures in NASA's Mars program:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Polar_Lander

    But yes, we should try again. I would aim for the EDGE of one of the polar ice caps, and then dig deep.

    And, while we're on the subject, I am gobsmacked by the fact that the U.S. has never sent a robotic rover to explore the south lunar pole of the Moon, where we think there is some substantial but unknown amount of water, protected by being in eternal shadow from the Sun. That would be such a CHEAP mission for NASA, easily less than $50 million.
    I was discussing this with a coworker who used to be an engineer in the space program. I was noting how we almost seem to be deliberately avoiding the places we'd be most likely to find life.... the Martian poles and also those perma-shadows on the Moon where we seem to have spotted ice. We can get to those pretty easily and cheaply, yet instead we send missions to exactly the places where we can be most sure there won't be any life. It seems deliberate, as if they're so worried about the risk of contamination with Earth life, if there's any water present, that they're intentionally targeting places they know will be dead.

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    Veteran Member Dangermouse's Avatar
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    Methane? Where there's farts there's life!
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    If the reluctance to send robots to where there's ice really is due to a fear of contamination, here's a proposal. First, rather than relying on high-temperature cooking of equipment to sterilize it before launch (which doesn't work well with delicate modern electronics), use radiation for sterilization -- fairly low-level radiation won't harm electronics, but, if you leave the equipment soaking in it for a couple weeks, will sterilize any life forms. Then, for any contamination picked up on the exterior in the upper atmosphere during the launch, have an Earth-based laser system set to light up the spacecraft with UV light laser. It seems like you could target it long enough that you'd kill any stray survivors on the surface while still fairly close to Earth. Between that and the rigors of space travel itself, plus just the challenge of life adapted for Earth trying to survive in a totally different environment, it seems like the risk of contamination is just about nil. Anything so hardy as to be able to survive that could also survive being blasted into space by large meteor strike, so life that hardy would already have passed between planets, anyway.
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    Radical Centrist BigLeRoy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dangermouse View Post
    Methane? Where there's farts there's life!
    It's not clear that this is true: Uranus smells like farts!: Uranus smells like farts due to hydrogen sulfide, scientists confirm - Business Insider

    The planet Uranus has a lot of methane and hydrogen sulfide in its atmosphere, which would give it a really, ah, pungent smell. But no one really expects to find life there. It is almost certainly simply too cold.

    Saturn's moon Titan is a more interesting case. It has large lakes of liquid methane and ethane and other hydrocarbons, and there is certainly a LOT of interesting organic chemistry going on at the surface and in the lower atmosphere of Titan. Which we should definitely explore with a follow-up mission to the Huygens probe that was part of the Cassini mission that just recently ended its long observations of the Saturn system. We would like to get a probe FLOATING in the largest lake on Titan, which is the size of the Caspian Sea here on Earth! Probably won't happen until the 2030's. Titan is cold, and it would not be 'life as we know it', but we are still babes in the wood when it comes to this stuff, so.....


    But on Mars, this seasonal pattern of methane in the atmosphere is hard to explain as resulting from purely geochemical origins. It would actually be much easier to explain if it is, in fact, of biological origin. Which is why I think it's pretty exciting.

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    Radical Centrist BigLeRoy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arkady View Post
    If the reluctance to send robots to where there's ice really is due to a fear of contamination, here's a proposal. First, rather than relying on high-temperature cooking of equipment to sterilize it before launch (which doesn't work well with delicate modern electronics), use radiation for sterilization -- fairly low-level radiation won't harm electronics, but, if you leave the equipment soaking in it for a couple weeks, will sterilize any life forms. Then, for any contamination picked up on the exterior in the upper atmosphere during the launch, have an Earth-based laser system set to light up the spacecraft with UV light laser. It seems like you could target it long enough that you'd kill any stray survivors on the surface while still fairly close to Earth. Between that and the rigors of space travel itself, plus just the challenge of life adapted for Earth trying to survive in a totally different environment, it seems like the risk of contamination is just about nil. Anything so hardy as to be able to survive that could also survive being blasted into space by large meteor strike, so life that hardy would already have passed between planets, anyway.
    This all sounds right, but these Earth organisms known as tardigrades can survive amazing conditions:

    BBC Nature - Tardigrades: Water bears in space

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    Quote Originally Posted by BigLeRoy View Post
    It's not clear that this is true: Uranus smells like farts!: Uranus smells like farts due to hydrogen sulfide, scientists confirm - Business Insider

    The planet Uranus has a lot of methane and hydrogen sulfide in its atmosphere, which would give it a really, ah, pungent smell. But no one really expects to find life there. It is almost certainly simply too cold.
    Almost certainly? Oh I don't know, I've heard it gets up to a balmy -243 degrees Fahrenheit. But I guess the 500 mph winds probably make it feel chillier.

    Saturn's moon Titan is a more interesting case. It has large lakes of liquid methane and ethane and other hydrocarbons, and there is certainly a LOT of interesting organic chemistry going on at the surface and in the lower atmosphere of Titan. Which we should definitely explore with a follow-up mission to the Huygens probe that was part of the Cassini mission that just recently ended its long observations of the Saturn system. We would like to get a probe FLOATING in the largest lake on Titan, which is the size of the Caspian Sea here on Earth! Probably won't happen until the 2030's. Titan is cold, and it would not be 'life as we know it', but we are still babes in the wood when it comes to this stuff, so.....

    But on Mars, this seasonal pattern of methane in the atmosphere is hard to explain as resulting from purely geochemical origins. It would actually be much easier to explain if it is, in fact, of biological origin. Which is why I think it's pretty exciting.
    Developing tech that enables probes to be sent up cost-effectively is interesting if it advances science to help us understand how life spontaneously develops, or other mysteries. That's about as far as I go with it. But I'm not a fan of the fantasies that spin off from space exploration ideas.

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