Archive for March 9th, 2009

Places to go when visiting Mars

March 9, 2009

As I continue to struggle in which seems to have become a continuous quest to find time to actually write something substantial, crossing my desktop came some interesting thoughts on Mars. You may recall that earlier I wrote about the possibilities of life on Mars earlier. The recent Wired article talks about the suggestion to look into Mt. Olympus as a likely spot in which to find it. From the article:

Using computer simulations, McGovern and Julia Morgan of Rice University determined that the volcano’s strange asymmetry — it has a gently sloped northwest flank and a much steeper southeast side — is the result of what lies beneath it: lava spread unevenly on a slippery surface such as clay, which is deposited by water.

“In order for the volcano to have that unusual shape, you need some sort of low-friction base,” McGovern said.

The same phenomenon happens in some Hawaiian volcanoes that have a clay foundation, McGovern said. And the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft has already detected clay on Mars.

Olympus Mons is about 340 miles wide, so clay beneath it “would correspond to a huge amount of water,” said geochemist Jennifer Blank of the SETI Institute, who was not involved in the study.

And unlike the long-suspected water ice that the Phoenix lander sampled for the first time, if water does exist under Olympus Mons, it could be piping hot. Because the volcano doesn’t show impact craters on a planet that bears many such scars, it was probably actively coating its surface with fresh lava just 10 million or 20 million years ago.

The idea that things could still be warm under Mt. Olympus is still speculation, of course. It would be interesting to try to model this to see how long heat could be retained underneath the surface. After all, the lack of a substantial magnetic field does suggest that the interior is no longer a swirling molten core like we still have on Earth. But if it is still hot there, it could be very similar to the earliest conditions on Earth which gave rise to life.

Anybody up for an exploratory trip?