Mars rover finds "puddles" on the planet's surface- Retracted by source

Vastet
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Mars rover finds "puddles" on the planet's surface- Retracted by source

15:33 08 June 2007
NewScientist.com news service
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 controversial.

“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)

http://space.newscientist.com/article/dn12026-mars-rover-finds-puddles-on-the-planets-surface.html

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Whoa, very cool. The

Whoa, very cool.

The evidence just keeps adding up, it is getting very convincing. 


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I want them to drill it as

I want them to drill it as was suggested. The idea is neat, but there's too many things that can form a similar appearance to water for me to jump the gun on this one.

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Vastet wrote: I want them

Vastet wrote:
I want them to drill it as was suggested. The idea is neat, but there's too many things that can form a similar appearance to water for me to jump the gun on this one.

Agreed, no reason to jump the gun, but the more evidence they find the more it seems to point towards water.

Drilling the next step. 


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It was an astonishing claim:

It was an astonishing claim: Mars may have puddles of liquid water on its surface today. That was the conclusion Ron Levin and Daniel Lyddy of Lockheed Martin in Arizona, US, recently came to after analysing an image taken by NASA's Opportunity rover (see image at left).

In our story about the research, we acknowledge that the claim is highly controversial, citing an outside expert who says it would be "virtually impossible" for liquid water to exist without boiling away in the planet's thin atmosphere.

But it turns out the claim is impossible for an entirely different – and much more basic – reason: the terrain in question is on the side of a crater, and is therefore sloped too greatly for water to pool into puddles.

The reporter had tried to contact numerous outside researchers, including those on the MER rover mission, for their analysis of the claim, but his calls were not immediately returned.

In the end, it was savvy readers who first pointed the error out to us over the weekend, sending in panoramic images pinpointing the location of the purported puddles. Though it seemed clear from those images that the terrain was sloped, I found it hard to believe that the researchers themselves could have missed such an obvious – and crucial – detail.

But apparently they had, analysing just the smaller images without understanding the larger context of their surroundings – missing the forest for the trees. "I want to retract the claim in the paper that the smooth area we discussed was 'standing liquid water'," Levin acknowledged on Tuesday. "I am sorry that we made such a large mistake."

In light of this, we must retract the article. We work extremely hard to publish accurate, timely and interesting stories, so we regret the confusion this story has caused. I want to thank those readers who wrote in – we are indebted to you for catching the mistake.

Maggie McKee, Space editor

http://www.newscientist.com/blog/space/2007/06/no-puddles-on-mars.html

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Although disappointing I'm

Although disappointing I'm sure, this is an excellent example of scientists being able to admit they're incorrect (unlike some other folks we all know).

 

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