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  • Pathfinder Approach Key To Scouting Mars
  • Surveyor Blazes Path To Martian Century
  • Life, Water and Mars
  • Martian Life Ain't Cheap
  • NASA Reaffirms Choice Of Two For 2003
  • Does Mars Hide Vast Water Deposits
  • Science Paper - PDF 3MB
  • A Century Of Wet Tales
  • New Images Point To Recent Water Activity
    Washington - June 22, 2000 - In what could turn out to be a landmark discovery in the history of Mars exploration, imaging scientists using data from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft have recently observed features that suggest there may be current sources of liquid water at or near the surface of the red planet.

    The new images show the smallest features ever observed from martian orbit -- about the size of a sport-utility vehicle. NASA scientists compare the features to those left by flash floods on Earth.

    "We see features that look like gullies formed by flowing water and the deposits of soil and rocks transported by these flows. The features appear to be so young that they might be forming today. We think we are seeing evidence of a groundwater supply, similar to an aquifer," said Dr. Michael Malin, principal investigator for the Mars Orbiter Camera on the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft at Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, Calif. "These are new landforms that have never been seen before on Mars."

    Gullies eroded into the wall of a meteor impact crater in Noachis Terra. This high resolution view (above, left) from the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) shows channels and associated aprons of debris that are interpreted to have formed by groundwater seepage, surface runoff, and debris flow.

    The lack of small craters superimposed on the channels and apron deposits indicates that these features are geologically young. It is possible that these gullies indicate that liquid water is present within the martian subsurface today.

    The MOC image was acquired on September 28, 1999. The scene covers an area approximately 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) wide by 6.7 km (4.1 mi) high (note, the aspect ratio is 1.5 to 1.0). Sunlight illuminates this area from the upper left

    The image is located near 54.8S, 342.5W. The context image (above, right) shows the location of the MOC image on the south-facing wall of an impact crater approximately 20 kilometers (12 miles) in diameter.

    The Mars Orbiter Camera high resolution images are taken black-and-white (grayscale); the color seen here has been synthesized from the colors of Mars observed by the MOC wide angle cameras and by the Viking Orbiters in the late 1970s.
    Images Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

    The findings will be published in the June 30 issue of Science magazine.

    "Twenty-eight years ago the Mariner 9 spacecraft found evidence -- in the form of channels and valleys -- that billions of years ago the planet had water flowing across its surface," said Dr. Ken Edgett, staff scientist at Malin Space Science Systems and co-author of the paper in Science.

    "Ever since that time, Mars science has focused on the question, 'Where did the water go?' The new pictures from Global Surveyor tell us part of the answer -- some of that water went under ground, and quite possibly it's still there."

    "For two decades scientists have debated whether liquid water might have existed on the surface of Mars just a few billion years ago," said Dr. Ed Weiler, associate administrator for space science at NASA Headquarters.

    "With today's discovery, we're no longer talking about a distant time. The debate has moved to present-day Mars. The presence of liquid water on Mars has profound implications for the question of life not only in the past, but perhaps even today. If life ever did develop there, and if it survives to the present time, then these landforms would be great places to look."

    The gullies observed in the images are on cliffs, usually in crater or valley walls, and are made up of a deep channel with a collapsed region at its upper end (an "alcove") and at the other end an area of accumulated debris (an "apron") that appears to have been transported down the slope. Relative to the rest of the martian surface, the gullies appear to be extremely young, meaning they may have formed in the recent past.

    "They could be a few million years old, but we cannot rule out that some of them are so recent as to have formed yesterday," Malin said.

    Recent Science Abstracts
  • Today's Science Paper - PDF 3MB

  • Martian Chronology: New Mars Global Surveyor results on absolute calibration, geologically young volcanism, and fluvial episodes.

  • Constraints on overland fluid transport through Martian Valley Networks.

  • Meteorological control on the formation of Martian Paleolakes.

  • Identifying Martian Hydrothermal Sites: Geological investigation utilizing multiple datasets.

  • Remotely Sensed Signatures of Hydrovolcanism: Examples from the Earth and preliminary results from Mars.

  • Formation and Dissociation of Clathrate Hydrates on Mars: Polar caps, northern plains, and highlands.

  • Possibility of the Seasonal Existence of Salt Solution in the Martian surface regolith and their morphological effect.
  • Because the atmospheric pressure at the surface of Mars is about 100 times less than it is at sea level on Earth, liquid water would immediately begin to boil when exposed at the martian surface. Investigators believe that this boiling would be violent and explosive.

    So how can these gullies form? Malin explained that the process must involve repeated outbursts of water and debris, similar to flash floods on Earth.

    "We've come up with a model to explain these features and why the water would flow down the gullies instead of just boiling off the surface. When water evaporates it cools the ground -- that would cause the water behind the initial seepage site to freeze.

    "This would result in pressure building up behind an 'ice dam.' Ultimately, the dam would break and send a flood down the gully," said Edgett.

    The occurrence of gullies is quite rare: only a few hundred locations have been seen in the many tens of thousands of places surveyed by the orbiter camera. Most are in the martian southern hemisphere, but a few are in the north.

    "What is odd about these gullies is that they occur where you might not expect them -- in some of the coldest places on the planet," Malin indicated. "Nearly all occur between latitudes 30 degrees and 70 degrees, and usually on slopes that get the least amount of sunlight during each Martian day."

    If these gullies were on Earth they would be at latitudes roughly between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Point Barrow, Alaska, in the northern hemisphere; and Sydney, Australia, to much of the Antarctic coast in the south.

    This picture shows a series of troughs and layered mesas in the Gorgonum Chaos region of the martian southern hemisphere. Gullies are believed to have been formed by seeping ground water emanate from a specific layer near the tops of trough walls, particularly on south-facing slopes (south is toward the bottom of each picture).

    The presence of so many gullies associated with the same layer in each mesa suggests that this layer is particularly effective in storing and conducting water. Such a layer is called an aquifer, and this one appears to be present less than a few hundred meters (few hundred yards) beneath the surface in this region.

    The MOC pictures were taken on January 22, 2000. The sample on the left (A) is an area 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) wide by 2.6 km (1.6 mi) high. The long view (B) covers an area 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) wide by 22.6 km (14 mi) long. Sunlight illuminates each scene from the upper left. The images are located near 37.5S, 170.5W.
    Images Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

    The water supply is believed to be about 100 to 400 meters (300 to 1,300 feet) below the surface, and limited to specific regions across the planet.

    Each flow that came down each gully may have had a volume of water of, roughly, 2,500 cubic meters (about 90,000 cubic feet) -- about enough water to sustain 100 average households for a month or fill seven community-size swimming pools.

    The process that starts the water flowing remains a mystery, but the team believes it is not the result of volcanic heating.

    "I think one of the most interesting and significant aspects of this discovery is what it could mean if human explorers ever go to Mars," said Malin.

    "If water is available in substantial volumes in areas other than the poles, it would make it easier for human crews to access and use it -- for drinking, to create breathable air, and to extract oxygen and hydrogen for rocket fuel or to be stored for use in portable energy sources."

    "This latest discovery by the Mars Global Surveyor is a true 'watershed' -- that is, a revolution that pushes the history of water on Mars into the present," said Dr. Jim Garvin, Mars Program Scientist, NASA Headquarters.

    "To follow up on this discovery we will continue the search with Mars Global Surveyor and its rich array of remote sensing instruments, and in 2001, NASA will launch a scientific orbiter with a high spatial resolution middle-infrared imaging system that will examine the seepage sites in search of evidence of water-related minerals.

    "Furthermore, NASA is in the process of evaluating two options for a 2003 mission to Mars, both of which could provide independent information concerning the remarkable sites identified by Malin and Edgett."

  • New Images

     Seasonal Salts Could Rub Mars Raw
    A Science Abstract by Kuzmin R.O. and E.V. Zabalueva
    Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analitical Chemistry
    Presented at The 31st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference
    Washington (AFP) - June 22, 2000 - The presence of water-soluble salts in the Martian regolith may have an influence on the phase state of the icy regolith in the areas where ice-regolith is stable on the surface. In the modern climate of Mars such conditions might be only on the latitudes above 40-45 Degrees. The salts presence in the ice-containing frozen soil of Mars may be responsible for the liquid water phase appearance in the regolith surface layer (seasonally) in a broad range of negative temperatures.

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