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Experts discuss the new small step: water on Mars

Experts discuss the new small step: water on Mars

Experts discuss the new small step: water on Mars
October 01
12:12 2015

Adalberto Toledo | Staff Writer


NASA announced Monday the discovery of hydrated salts on the surface of Mars and experts from UNT are looking toward the future.

With the current atmospheric conditions on Mars’ surface, liquid water cannot persist in large quantities. But the current results show that parts of the surface are more moist than previously thought and the atmosphere is more humid, associate professor of physics Ohad Shemmer said.

“This would make manned missions to the planet even easier, since the astronauts might not have to carry large amounts of water with them to the planet,” Shemmer said. “The water on Mars may even be used as propellant for getting the crew back to Earth.”

Shemmer said it might now be easier to search for Martian life and enhance the possibility of future manned missions.

“Given that water is probably more abundant on the Martian surface than previously thought, it may be much easier to set up a future human colony on the planet,” Shemmer said.

As for Mars’ past, Shemmer said it was probably a lot like Earth at one point.

“Mars may have experienced a major climatic change recently, although it’s not clear how ‘recent’ is translated to time in this case,” Shemmer said. “It appears as if Mars is now in its ‘dry’ phase, following an episode of water flowing on its surface.”

Astronomy professor Jim Roberts said he was not surprised to hear of the discovery, given the evidence of canyons, such as the Valles Marineris, that stretch over nearly a fourth of the planet’s circumference.

“Some liquid formed there that had to cut away at the [ground],” Roberts said. “I wasn’t surprised we found water.”

He also speculates this might be a sign of more water under the surface.

“The temperature is high and the evaporation rate might allow the water to evaporate,” Roberts said. “But there’s the other side of the coin: there might be water trapped underground.”

He added that water might be used in different ways to aid potential settlers.

“We have electrolysis,” Roberts said. “With that we would be able to separate hydrogen from oxygen. Hydrogen to burn, oxygen to breathe.”

Roberts said the main issue settlers will have is with the atmosphere, which is composed of mainly carbon dioxide. While water may be necessary for living organisms, it is not a sufficient condition for life.

“The atmosphere might be harvested on Mars to get the other gases that we need,” Roberts said. “Primarily we’d need nitrogen and oxygen.”

Roberts said that full terraformation – a term coined by Carl Sagan detailing the process of reworking a planet’s biosphere for human habitability – might not be necessary. Future explorers may only need to terraform certain regions of Mars.

For Roberts, this is more of an incentive for his students to keep dreaming.

“We have to dream before we can reach for things,” Roberts said. “One thing I try to work on is to get these kiddos to imagine, dream and think wild, crazy things. What’s crazy today may be standard a decade from now.”

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