Friday, March 13, 2009

Of Ice and Water

Finding ice on Mars is one thing. It means that the temperature on the planet is low enough to freeze water, not allowing for any liquid water. This limits the chance of some life form to possibly exist on Mars. But, according to a team of scientists connected to the Phoenix Mission, this may not be the case.

A team of scientists believes it has found strong evidence of liquid water on Mars, a discovery that would greatly increase the likelihood that some form of life may exist on the Red Planet.

The findings are controversial because there is disagreement among researchers over the evidence, which came from the Phoenix Mars lander's mission last year to the planet's north pole.

Fair enough. If the discovery is one of merit, this is an astounding day for science indeed. This is only if the findings can stand up to scrutiny.

Now, nearly two dozen scientists connected with the Phoenix mission, including lead scientist Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, have signed on to a research paper: "Physical and Thermodynamical Evidence for Liquid Water on Mars." It will be presented at the 40th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference on March 23 in The Woodlands, Texas, north of Houston.

The evidence offered for liquid water is a series of photographs of globules on one of Phoenix's leg struts. Advocates say the globules were splashed up on the strut during the landing on May 25, 2008. The authors point to pictures that they say show the globules moving and merging over time.

So, we’ll have to wait until March 23 to see what the 40th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference has in store for the topic at hand. Perhaps the finding will result in a greater acceptance of the possibly of liquid water on Mars. Perhaps not…

Another Phoenix scientist, Michael Hecht of the Jet Propulsion Lab in La CaƱada Flintridge, is skeptical of his colleagues' assertions. The photographic images are grainy and unconvincing, and the globules are probably particles of ice, not water, he said.

Quite a skeptical one, I’m afraid I have to back up Michael Hecht’s assertions. Let’s not openly accept that Mars indefinitely has liquid water present before the data and evidence can hold up to intense scrutiny.

But it is still quite possible, he added, that water could exist in liquid form on Mars, in a brine, even at very cold temperatures, because salt lowers the freezing point of ice. "That's one of the exciting things" about Phoenix's discovery of salty soil, he said.

Any thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. Liquid water would be exciting, but I agree that caution is required, so we don't just see what we want to see, rather than seeing what the evidence actually points to.

    Still, its great that they keep investigating.