Friday, January 29, 2010

New Delhi, India (CNN) -- Indian researchers have announced plans to send their astronauts to space in 2016.The cost of the proposed mission is estimated at $4.8 billion, said S. Satish, spokesman for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

Studies have begun on the design of the crew capsules that will be used to put a pair of astronauts 300 kilometers aloft for seven days, he said. The project budget has been sent for federal approval, he added.

A training facility for astronauts will also be built in southern India as part of the program, which Satish said would be solely Indian.

In 1984, Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian to explore space in what was a joint mission with the then Soviet Union.

In 2008, India launched its first unmanned mission -- Chandrayaan-1 -- to the moon that dropped a probe onto the lunar surface.

In 312 days, Chandrayaan-1, meaning moon craft, completed more than 3,400 orbits and met most of its scientific objectives before vanishing off the radars abruptly last year, according to the space agency.

The craft carried payloads from the United States, the European Union and Bulgaria. One of its aims was to search for evidence of water or ice and identify the chemical composition of certain lunar rocks.
The Chandrayaan-1 mission came to be seen as the 21st century, Asian version of the space race between the United States and the USSR -- but this time involving India and China.

Satish said the agency was also planning to send a second version of Chandrayaan in 2012.

India held its first rocket launch from a fishing village in southern India in 1963.

Now, the South Asian nation lists more than 60 events as "milestones" in its space program, which includes the successful use of polar and geosynchronous satellite launch vehicles.

Indian scientists say their country has the world's largest constellation of remote-sensing satellites.

These satellites, according to the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center, capture images of the Earth used in a range of applications -- agriculture, water resources, urban development, mineral prospecting, environment, forestry, drought and flood forecasting, ocean resources and disaster management.

Another major system, or INSAT, is used for communication, television and meteorology.

India, however, maintains competition does not drive its space ambitions.
Mars fans unite tonight
By Luke Money/ Rodney Haas/Arizona Daily Wildcat

This 3D scale model of the surface of Mars is a part of the Flandrau Science Center's exhibit of Mars. The science center is teaming up with the Mt. Lemmon Sky Center and Biosphere 2 to show off Mars’ latest.

Mars is the closest it has been to Earth since 2003, so members of the UA faculty are attempting to bring the red planet a little bit closer to Tucson with a special event. “Mars: A Celebration of the Red Planet,” a collaborative effort between the UA Flandrau Science Center, Biosphere 2, and the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, will take place at all three affiliated institutions today.

Life on Mars

The presentation at the Flandrau center will focus primarily on the rapidly changing scientific views of Mars; particularly in the wake of recent research opportunities presented by both the Phoenix Mars Lander and the HiRISE imager aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

“Recently, there has been sort of a revolution in studying Mars,” said Shane Byrne, an assistant professor of planetary sciences. “The difference between what we were able to do 10 years ago and what we can do now is literally night and day.”

Byrne’s presentation will focus on the formation and modification of polar ice deposits on Mars. He is studying how they might relate to processes such as glacial movement and tectonic activity occurring on the planet.

“Scientists had a long-standing belief that Mars was nothing more than a dry, static, desert-like planet,” Byrne said. “But recent research has indicated that as much as half the planet may be covered with ice just below the surface.”

These assertions are based on a series of images from HiRISE, which shows, among other things, ice at the bottom of impact craters.

The real discovery is not necessarily the ice, Byrne says, but its implications, particularly from a biological perspective.

“The application of these discoveries to the ongoing research of life on Mars are clear,” Byrne said. “If the climate of Mars was warmer or more humid in the past and water was able to exist in stable liquid form on the surface, then the potential of there having been life is greater.”

Both Byrne and Michael Terenzoni, the astronomy director at the Flandrau center, will be presenting from 6 to 10 p.m. at Flandrau.

Biosphere 3: the Red Planet

Simultaneously, Vic Baker, a UA regents’ professor, will be hosting a presentation at Biosphere 2. Baker’s primary focus is the geophysical and hydrological implications of various landforms on Mars, particularly channels and valleys that appear to have been cut by running water that once existed on the surface.

Of course, Baker does not shy away from the correlation between water and the potential for life on the red planet.

“There are certain conditions that are associated with life,” Baker said. “And recent indicators, everything from chemical effects measured from orbit to soil samples taken on the surface, seem to suggest that at one point these conditions were, in fact, present on Mars, including on the surface.”

Baker’s presentation will address the evidence which exists in support of theories for life on Mars, both in the past and today.

In fact, Baker said, occurrences as trivial as excess methane emissions could be indicative of primitive life, even though it is difficult to prove.

“That’s the hard part about trying to study a topic of this nature on another planet,” Baker says. “On Earth, we can just send out a couple of geologists to look around for a while. On Mars, we have to plan for years to send a couple of robots.”

Baker will also address some of the inherent issues with trying to compare Mars to Earth in this regard.

“Even if we can pinpoint a location where the environment is conducive to supporting life, there’s still no guarantee that there is life there or that there ever has been,” Baker said. “Even things like methane emissions are tricky because we can’t be entirely sure if those emissions are coming from biological, inorganic, or geologic processes.”

Vic Baker will be presenting at Biosphere 2 from 6:30 to 10:00 p.m.

SkyCenter Mars Night

The third program is taking place at the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, where Public Observing Programs Coordinator Adam Block will be hosting a hands-on program about Mars.

Taking advantage of the relative proximity of Mars to Earth, Block’s program will allow participants to scan the skies both with pairs of binoculars and the SkyCenter 24-inch telescope.

“Our program gives people a rare opportunity,” Block said. “Not many research institutions will let you walk right up and use their equipment the way we do.”

Block’s program will begin with a quick tour of the SkyCenter itself, accompanied by a brief discussion of their current research. Participants will then be given access to star charts, binoculars and even the telescope.

“This event is really just a variation of a regular program we offer up here called SkyNights,” Block said. “We give people the opportunity to come up here and use the telescope pretty much on a nightly basis, but, with this program, we will look a lot at Mars.”

Those unable to make it up Mt. Lemmon to see Block’s presentation will have the opportunity to see it live via video link at both the Flandrau Science Center and Biosphere 2.

This will give everyone who attends any one of these three programs the opportunity to see the images from Block’s presentation.

Despite the differences in tone and topic of all three presentations, all will address and acknowledge one important thing: the current interest in studying Mars and the undeniable leadership position which the UA has taken in studying Earth’s enigmatic neighbor.

What: Flandrau Science Presentation
Where: Flandrau: The University of Arizona Science Center
When: 6:30 to 10 p.m.
Cost: $7.50 for adults, $5 children ages 4-15, Children under 4 are free. Two dollars off tickets with CatCard.

What: Biosphere 2 Presentation
Where: Biosphere 2
When: 6:30-10 p.m.
Cost: $25 per person

What: SkyCenter Presentation
Where: Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter
When: 3:30-9:30 p.m.
Cost: $48 per person, $25 dollars per youth
Reservations Required, (520) 626-8122

Recommended: Articles that may interest you

When you ‘Wish’ upon Mars (Daily Wildcat)
Arizona Daily Wildcat - Tuitama has MIP court date Friday (Daily Wildcat)
Students plan for national space club (Arizona Daily Wildcat)
Discovery of ice fuels speculation about Martian life (The Daily Texan)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Don't Be Sad for Mars Rover, Celebrate a Robotic Life Fully Lived

By David Bois Wednesday, January 27, 2010 10:16 AM ET

NASA confirms that Mars Spirit rover, stuck since spring, may not come back from the hibernation command it is issuing as Martian winter approaches. It's had an amazing six year run, so sadness is far less appropriate than celebration.

We knew that this day was coming. The impending sense that we would soon have to say goodbye has lingered for months.

But in spite of the potential for sadness on this occasion, the end of the red dusty road for the Mars Rover Spirit must be embraced as a cause for celebration. If there were New Orleans-style jazz funerals for space gadgets, this would be the perfect occasion, and I'd be the first to assemble my saxophone and step into marching formation with the band.

It's so very tempting to think it would have wanted it that way. Stuck in loose soil since late spring, Spirit's continued ability to grab great data even though immobile — which amazingly included sending back smoking-gun evidence of Martian water uncovered by the very spinning of its mired wheel — hinted that the gadget might somehow have been imbued through programming with the human characteristics of perseverance, optimism and determination.

Spirit thus begged to be anthropomorphized, to be seen as a real-world facsimile of the likes of Pixar's Wal-E. Designed with the hope that both it and its companion rover Opportunity would each stay operative for a 90 day mission, these space buggies are among NASA's most smashing successes, having been on the job for six years.

But as news reports via Wired, BBC and others confirm, NASA has announced that they are powering Spirit down while enough power remains on board to receive and process one last instruction to go into hibernation mode from which return to activity is not impossible, but described as unlikely.

BBC reports that project scientists are positioning the rover so that its array of solar panels will be positioned to receive the most possible solar energy into the batteries during the approaching Martian winter. Temperatures are expected to plummet to about minus 60 Fahrenheit, which will push the design tolerance for cold that Spirit was designed to withstand under the best and straight-out-of-showroom conditions.

As quoted by BBC, NASA scientist and director of Mars exploration Doug McCuistion sums up the rover's drawn-out predicament, and wants us to buck up:

"Spirit has encountered a golfer's worst nightmare — the sand trap that no matter how many strokes you take, you can't get out of it. But this is not a day to mourn Spirit; this is not a day of loss at this point. Spirit will continue to make contributions to science."

Without a doubt: The information that Spirit and Opportunity have sent back to Earth has led to more than 100 journal papers, with untold findings still to be gleaned from the mountain of data.

Godspeed, little rover. Come back and say hello later on if you're able. But if not, you sure did good.

And you won't be forgotten

Monday, January 18, 2010

NASA to search for silent Mars lander
By Associated Press

POSTED: 02:58 p.m. EST, Jan 17, 2010

LOS ANGELES: Will Phoenix rise from the dead?
Despite the odds, NASA on Monday will begin a three-day effort to listen for signs of life from the Phoenix lander, presumed frozen to death near Mars' north pole after spending five months digging into soil and ice.
''We have no expectations that Phoenix has survived the winter, but we certainly want to have a look,'' said Chad Edwards, chief telecommunications engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The plan calls for the orbiting Mars Odyssey spacecraft to make regular passes over the Phoenix landing site and listen for a beep. If the three-legged, solar-powered lander fails to phone home, NASA will hail it again next month, when the sun is higher on the horizon.
Phoenix landed in May 2008 and spent five months digging trenches and conducting science experiments in the arctic plains. It confirmed the presence of ice and became the first spacecraft to touch and taste water on another planet. It last communicated with Earth in November 2008 as sunlight waned and temperatures dipped.
The lander was not designed to withstand extreme Martian winters, where temperatures average minus 195 degrees, far chillier than Earth's coldest temperature — minus 129 degrees — recorded in Antarctica in 1983.
Since seasons on Mars last twice as long as Earth's, scientists waited until Martian spring was under way in the northern latitudes to check on Phoenix, which has been blanketed in carbon dioxide frost.
In the unlikely chance the lander wakes up, it has been programmed to signal that it is alive.
''It's such a low probability,'' admitted mission scientist Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis.
It's doubtful Phoenix's solar panels can capture enough sunlight to charge its batteries. Even if it re-energizes itself, there's no guarantee its instruments will still work, researchers say.
Because the mission was pieced together with hardware and instruments intended for canceled projects, Phoenix was named for the mythical bird that rose from its own ashes.

If Phoenix Arises, Science could flow quickly | Universe Today

If Phoenix Arises, Science could flow quickly | Universe Today

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Will the Phoenix Rise from the Martian Winter?

Caption: This mosaic assembled from Phoenix images shows the spacecraft's three landing legs and patches of water ice exposed by the landing thrusters. Splotches of Martian material on the landing leg strut at left could be liquid saline-water. Larger version on .Credit: Kenneth Kremer, Marco Di Lorenzo, NASA/JPL/UA/Max Planck Institute and

Many Mars scientists believe that the arctic region may be the best place to look for evidence of current life on Mars. Indeed many Phoenix scientists have concluded that the Phoenix landing site is the “most habitable” of any thus far visited by human robotic explorers.

If the miraculous happens and contact is unexpectedly re-established with NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander, science could flow almost instantly if the ships vital operating systems are healthy. Indeed a science plan could be swiftly put in place after determining the condition of the lander, says Doug McCuiston, director of Mars Exploration at NASA Headquarters. McCuiston explained to me in an interview that the initial science would be “a surface change and atmospheric imaging campaign that could begin nearly immediately. In that instance, if the cameras are operable it is easy to begin an imaging campaign with real-time planning”.

A robust and wide ranging science agenda far beyond pictures could theoretically be implemented if Phoenix does amazingly survive and the pre-programmed Lazarus mode kicks in and she re-awakens with a functional arm. The goal would be to restart the assessment of habitability in the martian arctic where humanity in the form of a robotic surrogate first touched water beyond earth

In fact, no one on the team really expects Phoenix to revive following the exceedingly harsh winter weather she has had to endure since falling silent more than one year ago on November 2, 2008. “Keep in mind, we think the chances are very low that it survived [martian] winter,” McCuiston emphasized to me. “NASA hardware has never been exposed to this type of environment on Mars”.

NASA has two spacecraft currently circling Mars in near polar orbit which will be actively searching for Phoenix, named Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). “We actually listen for it, not try to contact it because of the operational mode it will come up in (if it does at all)”, explained McCuiston. “Odyssey is slated to be the prime communications spacecraft”. The listening campaign with Odyssey begins on January 18 with 10+ overflights per day for three consecutive days, each of which has about a 10 minute window of opportunity, and will continue into February and March. “MRO will search on an as-available basis, depending on what else it’s doing, since its primary role is MSL landing site work. Mars Express [from ESA] is not involved”.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

2010: Proof of Martian Life in the Past from Martian Meteorites

Picture: A close-up of the "colony of martian bacteria" revealed though a microscope in the Nakhla meteorite. (NASA)

Final proof that Mars has bred life will be confirmed this year, leading NASA experts believe. The historic discovery will come not on Mars itself but from chunks of the red planet here on Earth.

David McKay, chief of astrobiology at NASA's Johnson Space Centre in Houston, says powerful new microscopes and other instruments will establish whether features in martian meteorites are alien fossils.

He says evidence for life in the space rocks could have been claimed by the UK if British scientists had used readily-available electron microscopes. Instead, images of colonies of martian bacteria were collected by American scientists.

The NASA team is already convinced that colonies of micro-organisms are visible inside three martian rocks that landed on Earth. If so, this would have profound implications for our understanding of life in the universe.

Two of the meteorites - ALH84001 and Yamato 593 - were found in the Antarctic by American and Japanese scientists after they lay in the icy desert for thousands of years.

But of special interest is a meteorite that fell in many chunks at Nakhla, Egypt, in 1911. Most of the fragments ended up in London's Natural History Museum.

The stones are known to be from Mars because gases trapped inside them match those in rocks examined by probes on the red planet. They were blasted out of its surface by asteroid impacts and then drifted around the solar system for millions of years before falling to earth.

One of the new instruments that will analyse the meteorite will bombard it with a stream of ions to check whether features are geological or biological.

The NASA team believes a planet-wide network of micro-organisms came to life underground on Mars 3.6 billion years ago when the planet was much warmer and wetter with a much thicker atmosphere. Simple life was developing on Earth around the same time.

McKay says it is remarkable that some of the most striking new evidence for life on Mars has been sitting in London for nearly 100 years.

He told the website Spaceflight Now that if British researchers had examined their Nakhla meteorite with readily available electron microscopes and other tools like those used by the U.S. team, the new evidence for life on Mars could have been a British discovery, rather than an American one.

He added: "We do not yet believe that we have rigorously proven there is - or was - life on Mars. But we do believe that we are very, very close to proving there is or has been life there."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

This photomicrograph focuses on a large "biomorph" from a Mars meteorite
fragment known as Nakhla e4150ed. Its chemical spectrum appears to be primarily iron oxide but with a carbon content slightly greater than the underlying matrix.


Do rocks from Mars bear the tiny fossilized signs of life? Scientists who think so say they'll subject meteorites from the Red Planet to a new round of high-tech tests in hopes of adding to their evidence.

For years, only one meteorite has figured in the controversy: ALH84001, a rock that was blasted away from Mars 16 million years ago, floated through space and fell through Earth's atmosphere onto Antarctica about 13,000 years ago. Scientists reported in 1996 that the rock contained microscopic structures that looked like "nano-fossils," but skeptics said the structures could have been created by chemical rather than biological reactions.

In November, the scientists who were behind the earlier research reported fresh findings that they said answered many of the objections from the skeptics - and they said two other space rocks traced to Mars seemed to have "biomorph" structures similar to those found in ALH84001. Pictures of the biomorphs were spread across a couple of Web pages back then, but generated relatively little attention at the time.

Over the weekend, the Spaceflight Now Web site provided further details on what the scientists saw and what they think it means.

The team, headed by astrobiologist David McKay from NASA's Johnson Space Center, said that samples from ALH84001 and the two other meteorites - known as Nakhla (found in Egypt in 1911) and Yamato 596 (found in Antarctica in 2000) - would be analyzed with high-resolution electron microscopes as well as an ion microprobe system in the months ahead.

Such instruments are expected to provide much better information about the chemical composition of the samples - information that could show more definitively whether the processes giving rise to the biomorph structures were biological or strictly geological.

"We do not yet believe we have rigorously proven there is [or was] life on Mars," McKay told Spaceflight Now's Craig Covault. "But we do believe we are very, very close to proving there is or has been life there."

NASA could follow up on such findings with the Opportunity rover - which is due to start its seventh year on Mars this month. The search for signs of ancient life on Mars would be a job even more suited to the bigger, more capable Curiosity rover (a.k.a. Mars Science Laboratory), which is scheduled for launch in 2011. And if the evidence is really as strong as McKay hopes it will be, more Red Planet missions would likely be put on the fast track.

But there's always the chance that the evidence for life on Mars will remain inconclusive, even after the new, improved scientific tests. The Red Planet has been known to tease scientists before: You don't have to look any further than the Martian "canals" spotted in the 19th century, the Face on Mars photographed by the Viking 1 orbiter in 1976, the biology experiments conducted by the Viking landers, the Martian "banyan trees" touted by the late science-fiction guru Arthur C. Clarke, and the recurring reports about Martian methane.

Will biomorphs turn out to be the turning point in the search for life on Mars, or just another twist in a tangled tale? Feel free to weigh in with your comments below, and stay tuned for the next chapter in the "Life on Mars" story.


Update for 9:30 p.m. ET: Several commenters have asked how we know that any of these space rocks came from Mars. The answer has to do with tiny pockets of gas that were found inside the meteorites. When the chemical makeup of the gas was analyzed, scientists discovered that it matched the unique signature of Martian atmosphere, as measured by the Viking landers back in the 1970s. ALH84001 was the first meteorite to be identified in this way, but other meteorites (including Nakhla and Yamato 596) have a similar signature. Check out this Web page for more about the signature of Martian atmosphere and other technical issues relating to ALH84001.

Even without the gas analysis, scientists can tell that the Mars meteorites are of alien origin. A few years ago, University of Hawaii planetary scientist Vicky Hamilton analyzed the mineral composition of ALH84001 and suggested that the rock was blown away from a region of Mars known as Eos Chasma, which is a branch of the planet's wide-ranging Valles Marineris canyon system. Valles Marineris would be a great place to look for life on Mars, if it weren't so darn hard to get down into.


Join Alan Boyle's Cosmic Log team by signing up as his Facebook friend or following B0yle on The Cosmic Log. And pick up a copy of his new book, "The Case for Pluto." If you're partial to the planetary underdogs, you'll be pleased to know that I've set up a Facebook fan page for "The Case for Pluto."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Meteorite scientists document a new find in the Antarctic. The Antarctic Search for Meteorites Program (ANSMET) is funded by the Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Credit: ANSMET/NSF

Three Martian meteorites triple evidence for Mars life
The team that found evidence of Martian life in a meteorite that landed in Antarctica believes that during 2010, by using advanced instrumentation on now three Martian meteorites, it will be able to definitively prove whether such features are truly fossils of alien life on the Red Planet.

This new information goes well beyond the updated findings released by NASA in November 2009 about signatures for magnetic type bacteria.

"We do not yet believe that we have rigorously proven there is [or was ] life on Mars." says David S. McKay, chief of astrobiology at the NASA Johnson Space Center.

"But we do believe that we are very, very close to proving there is or has been life there," McKay tells Spaceflight Now.

"The possibility of life on Mars has become a scientific issue of profound importance and great public interest," Michael Meyer, the NASA Headquarters senior scientist for Mars exploration, told an audience of several hundred scientists at the recent American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

And in a 2009 editorial, The Economist, a highly regarded British publication, also noted the explosion of both public and scientific interest in Mars saying "the possibility of life on Mars is too thrilling for mankind to ignore."

In the mid-1990s, when the JSC team found what it interprets as Martian fossils inside a meteorite that landed near Allen Hills in Antarctica, it was the only example at the time of suspected fossils in a meteorite from Mars.

The team, however, believes it has since tripled its fossil-like data by finding more "biomorphs" (suspected Martian fossils) inside two additional Martian meteorites, as well as more evidence at other spots in the Allen Hills meteorite itself.

Remarkably, some of the most striking new evidence for life on Mars is being found inside in a meteorite that has been sitting in the British Museum of Natural History in London for nearly 100 years, says McKay.

Had British researchers examined their "Nakhla" meteorite with readily available electron microscopes and other tools like those used by the U.S. team, the new evidence for life on Mars could have been a British discovery, rather than an American one.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Life on Mars will have to wait til 1012 for USa

Scheduled to launch in the fall of 2011, Mars Science Laboratory is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. Mars Science Laboratory is a rover that will assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet's "habitability."

Mars Science Laboratory will study Mars' habitability


To find out, the rover will carry the biggest, most advanced suite of instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the martian surface. The rover will analyze dozens of samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks. The record of the planet's climate and geology is essentially "written in the rocks and soil" -- in their formation, structure, and chemical composition. The rover's onboard laboratory will study rocks, soils, and the local geologic setting in order to detect chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars and will assess what the martian environment was like in the past.

Mars Science Laboratory relies on innovative technologies

Mars Science Laboratory will rely on new technological innovations, especially for landing. The spacecraft will descend on a parachute and then, during the final seconds prior to landing, lower the upright rover on a tether to the surface, much like a sky crane. Once on the surface, the rover will be able to roll over obstacles up to 75 centimeters (29 inches) high and travel up to 90 meters (295 feet) per hour. On average, the rover is expected to travel about 30 meters (98 feet) per hour, based on power levels, slippage, steepness of the terrain, visibility, and other variables.

The rover will carry a radioisotope power system that generates electricity from the heat of plutonium's radioactive decay. This power source gives the mission an operating lifespan on Mars' surface of a full martian year (687 Earth days) or more, while also providing significantly greater mobility and operational flexibility, enhanced science payload capability, and exploration of a much larger range of latitudes and altitudes than was possible on previous missions to Mars.

Arriving at Mars in 2012, Mars Science Laboratory will serve as an entrée to the next decade of Mars exploration. It represents a huge step in Mars surface science and exploration capability because it will:

demonstrate the ability to land a very large, heavy rover to the surface of Mars (which could be used for a future Mars Sample Return mission that would collect rocks and soils and send them back to Earth for laboratory analysis)

demonstrate the ability to land more precisely in a 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) landing circle

demonstrate long-range mobility on the surface of the red planet (5-20 kilometers or about 3 to 12 miles) for the collection of more diverse samples and studies.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mars... it was wet and warm a very long time ago, which might mean that Mars shared a similar developmet period with Earth.

Friday, January 8, 2010
If I can't sleep at night, I get up and read about Mars... it was wet and warm a very long time ago.

Contrary to what most people think, Mars was a warm and wet planet 3 billion years ago, new research suggests. Writing in the journal Geology, scientists from Imperial College London and University College London (UCL) in the UK speculate that the 'red planet' was actually home to huge lakes (each some 20km wide) generated by melted ice during the Hesperian Epoch, the second of three Martian geologic epochs marked by lava flows.

Past studies suggested that Mars was indeed wet and warm, but the loss of most of its atmosphere between 4 billion and 3.8 billion years ago, before the Hesperian Epoch, triggered a cold and arid environment. Thanks to this latest research, fuelled by detailed images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that is currently orbiting the red planet, the scientists deduce that Mars actually sustained warm and wet periods.

The new images show a number of small, winding channels that connect 'flat-floored depressions' in the surface of the planet, located specifically above Ares Vallis - a huge, 2,000km gorge across the equator. The researchers speculate that only running water could have created these channels. Ice turning directly into gas could not have been responsible, they add.

Experts at NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) also believe that these channels were generated by Martian lake water flowing between the depressions around 3 billion years ago.

Scientists in the past believed that the depressions were created by sublimation, a process where an element or compound such as ice changes from its solid state into a gas without becoming liquid.

So what could have elicited the warmer and wetter environment? Shifts in the planet's orbit, stronger volcanic activity or even meteorite impacts were probably responsible for the planet's warmer and wetter periods, the researchers say. The higher temperature generated gases that thickened the atmosphere for a short period, effectively trapping more sunlight and making it warm enough for water to be sustained.

'Most of the research on Mars has focused on its early history and the recent past,' said Dr Nicholas Warner from Imperial College London's Department of Earth Science and Engineering, the lead author of the study. 'Scientists had largely overlooked the Hesperian Epoch as it was thought that Mars was then a frozen wasteland. Excitingly, our study now shows that this middle period in Mars' history was much more dynamic than we previously thought.'

For his part, UCL's Professor Jan-Peter Muller, who was responsible for mapping the 3D (three dimensional) shape of Mars' surface, said, 'We can now model the 3D shape of Mars' surface down to sub-metre resolution, at least as good as any commercial satellite orbiting the Earth. This allows us to test our hypotheses in a much more rigorous manner than ever before.'

The findings of this study could be a boon for scientists investigating the possibility of life on Mars. According to the researchers, the lake beds indicate regions on Mars that could have been warm and wet, and which could have been ideal locations for microbial life. 'These areas may be good targets for future robotic missions,' they say.

The researchers plan to investigate other areas along the planet's equator in order to determine the breadth of the lakes' existence during the Hesperian Epoch. Next on their list is 'Chryse Planitia', a region at the mouth of Ares Vallis. Initial data suggest lakes existed in this area as well.

For more information, please visit:


Imperial College London:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Facebook | Petition

Facebook Petition:
New HumansToMars.Org petition! Go to to voice your say to President Obama that you want a Humans To Mars mission now!

Mission:We need your help...the Augustine Commission earlier this year has recommended that the U.S. hold off on missions to Mars. We want to get a message to President Obama that this is not what the world wants. The world wants to send Humans To Mars.

Mars is where the challenge is, Mars is where the science is, and Mars is where the future is.

Please sign today at

This is an international petition.