Saturday, February 12, 2005

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Habitability != Life

Posted by Hippobean at 3:52 AM
Extreme Environment - Habitability = conditions that may once have been favorable to life. Such as evidence of abundance of water found in the Gusev and Meridiani craters on Mars by the MER rovers Spirit and Opportunity, water that started early and ended early. We're talking about 3.4 -4 billion years ago. Water that smoothed and rounded the tiny rocks the scientists called Blueberries. Then by chance of a 'bounce' rock (that is the rock the rover accidentally hit and gets bounced to another location), Spirit landed inside the Endurance crater and found it deeper than the others, therefore offering more stratigrahpy to sample. More water in more ancient time?

That was the talk given by Dr Nathalie Cabrol, planetary geologist at NASA Ames (SETI Institute). Hippo had always been fascinated by Mars and had followed Pathfinder and now MER progress. The pictures shown by Dr Cabrol were stunning, incredibly detailed and realistic. Sand dunes not unlike the ones we have on earth, vast panoramic of the Columbia Hills with background of a sky with white clouds. One picture especially blew my mind, taken by Spirit at night that accidentally caught sight of a meteor shower passing through from Jupiter, and the one with the meteorite lying right next to Spirit landing site (with the heat shield deployed and not jettisoned!).

What was important for Dr Nathalie was not whether there once was life on Mars but what skills life possessed to survive in an environment of thin air and high UV rays? To attempt to find some answers, Dr Nathalie and a group of scientists went to earth's extreme environment, to volcano Licancabur, high in the Chilean Andes, where the altitude and shallow fast evaporating lakes resemble closest to Mars environment 3 billion years ago.

It is too late for Hippo to ever make it to Mars. But listening to these talks and seeing these pictures and QTVR's is virtually being there. Hail to Mars!

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