AMA with Mars researchers on liquid water detection

    Yesterday, NASA provided evidence of the existence of liquid water on Mars, and not in the past, but in the present. In connection with this news, scientists involved in these studies spoke at Reddit under the heading AMA (Ask Me Anything), answering questions from subscribers. Under the cut - the translation of the most interesting and popular questions and answers to them.

    The questions are answered:

    • Rich Zurek, Chief Scientist, NASA Mars Program Office; Project Scientist, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
    • Leslie K. Tamppari, Deputy Project Scientist, MRO
    • Stephanie L. Smith, NASA-JPL social media team
    • Sasha E. Samonchina, NASA-JPL social media team

    The original is available here .

    How much water are we talking about? How much is it?

    We assume a very small amount of water - it is barely enough to wet the upper layer of the surface of Mars. Observed dark stripes are about 4-5 meters wide and 200-300 meters long.

    What will the next generation of robots that we send to Mars look like? How will these new planetary data change the composition of research equipment? And what is fed at the cafe in NASA?

    We plan to ship the InSight lander in 2016, which will be able to detect “jarring”. We also have a rover in development for 2020, with a design similar to Curiosity. And NASA is also considering launching a new orbiter a little later than 2020.
    The tools that are selected for the lander are consistent with mission objectives. Thus, if in connection with new discoveries the goals of the mission change, then the set of tools will also change.
    The food in JPL is just great! Pizza from a wood stove, burgers, sandwiches, an excellent salad bar.

    I read that the rover cannot get to some special locations (for example, where dark streams of water are found) because of the risk of bringing terrestrial microbes. What microbes are you worried about infecting the surface of Mars?

    The detected dark stripes are located on steep slopes, so the rover simply will not be able to climb there. Due to the presence of liquid water, we have orders to consider these regions as special, and to take additional measures to prevent surface contamination by terrestrial microorganisms. Our rovers are not sterilized enough to come into contact with liquid water.
    Due to the fact that the rovers were not sufficiently sterilized, can this cast doubt on future discoveries of extraterrestrial microorganisms living near liquid water? Can you be blamed for the fact that open microbes were brought from the Earth?
    Mars rovers were sterilized to such an extent that they did not contaminate areas of their landing and work where no liquid water was found. To go to regions with liquid water, rovers must be more thoroughly sterilized. We also take samples of microorganisms that may be present on the devices at launch, in order to further compare them with those that will be discovered on Mars.

    What is your next step?

    We are going to discover more locations containing salty streams. We examined only 3% (!!!) of the surface of Mars in a resolution sufficient to detect them.

    In your opinion, how much time will pass before we can make realistic plans for sending a man to Mars?

    Now NASA is considering sending a man in the vicinity of Mars in the early 2030s. With a successful set of circumstances, man will appear on Mars in the late 2030s.

    I guess I look too far into the future, but does the fact of the discovery of liquid water mean anything to terraform Mars in the future?

    This is more like a plumbing drain than a stream. We do not see water boiling over the surface of the planet. We see something that dampens the soil a little, causing it to darken.

    In 2011, it was said that salty streams of water may be a seasonal phenomenon. What was the final proof for your team, and what was the first reaction to this data?

    Using the MRO, we observed these regions from various points throughout the year, and then compared with observations over the next year. We found that the bands darken and lengthen in the warm season and disappear with the onset of cold weather. The advantages of MRO are that we can observe these changes for a long time.
    Our reaction? This is all incredibly interesting! The closer we look at Mars, the more interesting it gets!

    Questions from my 4th grade students.
    Could life exist in Martian water, given that it appears there several times a year? What becomes of life when water disappears?
    Can microorganisms from Mars rovers harm microbes from Mars?

    It is possible. We are aware of life forms that hibernate during a drought on Earth. The water that we observe in dark streams is very salty. Salt can harm microorganisms.
    We do not know how terrestrial microorganisms will react with life from other worlds. Therefore, we try to clean our rovers very carefully.

    Is there evidence of evaporation on Mars? And where does this water come from?

    New impact craters sometimes allow you to observe bright areas of ice at the bottom of the crater. Sublimating the ice disappears after a few months. Evaporation of salt streams also takes place, so water supplies must be replenished. But we do not know how.
    Given the seasonality of these phenomena, is it possible to assume that there is a water cycle on Mars?
    Yes, there is definitely a water cycle on Mars. But it happens, bypassing the liquid phase - Water vapor freezes, turning into ice, and ice sublimates, turning into steam. There is no rain on Mars, but perhaps they were, in its early history.

    Perhaps a stupid question, but what does this water taste like?

    It must be salty, but considering that perchlorates are toxic to humans, you will not want to try it.

    If there is water on Mars, maybe there is also a rainbow?

    The rainbow on Mars cannot be observed, because there is no rain, but we saw an “ice rainbow” using Pathfinder.

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