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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > Jun > Jun 9

Mars Rover Finds 'Puddles' On The Planet's Surface

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Sat, 09 Jun 2007 09:40:29 -0400
Fwd Date: Sat, 09 Jun 2007 09:40:29 -0400
Subject: Mars Rover Finds 'Puddles' On The Planet's Surface

Source: NewScientist.Com News Service


15:33 08 June 2007

[Image at site]

Mars Rover Finds 'Puddles' On The Planet's Surface
David Chandler

A new analysis of pictures taken by the exploration rover
Opportunity reveals what appear to be small ponds of liquid
water on the surface of Mars.

The report identifies specific spots that appear to have
contained liquid water two years ago, when Opportunity was
exploring a crater called Endurance. It is a highly
controversial claim, as many scientists believe that liquid
water cannot exist on the surface of Mars today because of the
planet's thin atmosphere.

If confirmed, the existence of such ponds would significantly
boost the odds that living organisms could survive on or near
the surface of Mars, says physicist Ron Levin, the report's lead
author, who works in advanced image processing at the aerospace
company Lockheed Martin in Arizona.

Along with fellow Lockheed engineer Daniel Lyddy, Levin used
images from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's website. The
resulting stereoscopic reconstructions, made from paired images
from the Opportunity rover's twin cameras, show bluish features
that look perfectly flat. The surfaces are so smooth that the
computer could not find any surface details within those areas
to match up between the two images.

The imaging shows that the areas occupy the lowest parts of the
terrain. They also appear transparent: some features, which
Levin says may be submerged rocks or pebbles, can be seen below
the plane of the smooth surface.

Smooth surface

The smoothness and transparency of the features could suggest
either water or very clear ice, Levin says.

"The surface is incredibly smooth, and the edges are in a plane
and all at the same altitude," he says. "If they were ice or
some other material, they'd show wear and tear over the surface,
there would be rubble or sand or something."

His report was presented at a conference of the Institute of
Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and will be published
later this year in the institute's proceedings.

No signs of liquid water have been observed directly from
cameras on the surface before. Reports last year pointed to the
existence of gullies on crater walls where water appears to have
flowed in the last few years, as shown in images taken from
orbit, but those are short-lived flows, which are thought to
have frozen over almost immediately.

Speedy evaporation?

Levin and other reasearchers, including JPL's Michael Hecht,
have published calculations showing the possibility of "micro-
environments" where water could linger, but the idea remains

"The temperatures get plenty warm enough, but the Mars
atmosphere is essentially a vacuum," says Phil Christensen of
Arizona State University, developer of the Mars rovers' mini-
Thermal Emission Spectrometers. That means any water or ice
exposed on the surface evaporates or sublimes away almost
instantly, he says.

But, he adds, "it is theoretically possible to get liquid water
within soil, or under other very special conditions". The
question is just how special those conditions need to be, and
whether they ever really are found on Mars today.

If there were absolutely no wind, says Christensen, you might
build up a stagnant layer of vapour above a liquid surface,
preventing it from evaporating too fast. "The problem is, there
are winds on Mars... In the real world, I think it's virtually
impossible," he told New Scientist. Simple test

Levin disagrees. He says his analysis shows that there can be
wind-free environments at certain times of day in certain
protected locations. He thinks that could apply to these small
depressions inside the sheltered bowl of Endurance crater, at
midday in the Martian summer.

He adds that highly briny water, as is probably found on Mars,
could be stable even at much lower temperatures.

Although the rover is now miles away from this site, Levin
proposes a simple test that would prove the presence of liquid
if similar features are found: use the rover's drill on the
surface of the flat area. If it is ice, or any solid material,
the drill will leave unmistakable markings, but if it is liquid
there should be no trace of the drill's activity.

Levin's father Gilbert was principal investigator of an
experiment on the Viking Mars lander, which found evidence for
life on the planet, although negative results from a separate
test for organic materials led most scientists to doubt the
evidence for biology.

Journal reference: R. L. Levin and Daniel Lyddy, Investigation
of possible liquid water ponds on the Martian surface (2007 IEEE
Aerospace Applications Conference Proceedings, paper #1376, to
be published in IEEE Xplore)

[Thanks to Tom Horn for the lead]

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