Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Hunt for life on Mars dealt another blow


An Australian geologist has identified what could be the first ever active flow of fluids through gullies on Mars.

Map Showing location of study area

Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft image of study area.
Arrows point to dark lines that are the suspected annual flow activity along the gullies and valleys

University of Melbourne geologist, Dr Nick Hoffman, identified recent gully and channel development near the polar regions of Mars from images taken by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft. But contrary to the majority of scientific opinion which suggests that such features were carved by liquid water, Hoffman says the flow is most likely frozen carbon dioxide.

NASA is desperate to find signs of liquid water on Mars so they have a target for the next generation of Mars landers and rovers to go and search for life, but their search could prove fruitless if Hoffman’s analysis of the images is correct.

In the latest edition of the journal Astrobiology, Hoffman presents evidence for the flow events on Mars and demonstrates that there are substances other than water that can flow on Mars and that water is probably the least likely substance to do this. Hoffman says the channels he identified from the Surveyor images are more likely being carved by avalanches of carbon dioxide and associated debris.

"The consequences of this for life on Mars are shattering. If similar mechanisms are responsible for all the recent gullies on Mars then the near surface life NASA is so desperately searching for may not exist," says Hoffman.

"Without liquid water there cannot be life and despite recent reports of more and more ice on the Red Planet, NASA has yet to find liquid water," he says.

Many NASA scientists are doubtful about Hoffman’s observations, but at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union held last month, Hoffman says they struggled to find arguments against the evidence he presented.

The Mars Gullies were discovered in 2001. Hoffman’s analysis of the recent images shows that a patch of gullies near the South Pole shows signs of annual flow activity each Martian Spring.

"In itself the observation of active flows is a dramatic discovery since no movement has yet been seen on Mars, except for some dry dust avalanches. The gullies are thought to be the most promising candidates for liquid water flows on modern Mars and many NASA researchers are suggesting ways in which they might be formed by liquid water, but nobody has yet seen the gullies in action," says Hoffman.

Hoffman suggests NASA researchers missed these most exciting events happening in the gullies as they have been focussed on looking for liquid water in late summer.

"In the Martian Spring, when carbon dioxide frost and snow at temperatures of minus130 degrees Centigrade still fill the valleys, flow events are occurring. The flows cut through the frost at temperatures that would turn battery acid into building stone," he says.

"Nothing based on water can flow at these temperatures, so the culprit must be defrosting carbon dioxide.

"But carbon dioxide doesn’t melt on Mars; it boils directly from the solid (a process called ’sublimation’). Instead of a trickle or gush of liquid pouring down the gully, the flow appears to be a flurry of boiling dry ice avalanching down the gully. The boiling dry ice acts like a amarda of miniature hovercraft carrying a shower of sand, dust, and tumbling rocks down the slope, carving out the gullies as it goes.

**Images available: Mars photographs showing the new springtime flows, diagrams of flow models, and photos of the author are available.

More information

Dr Nick Hoffman,
School of Earth Sciences,
University of Melbourne
Telephone: 03 8344 3735 0438 397 366

Jason Major
Media Officer
University of Melbourne
Telephone +(61 3) 8344 0181
Mobile 0421 641 506

Jason Major | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere
25.10.2016 | American Geophysical Union

nachricht Enormous dome in central Andes driven by huge magma body beneath it
25.10.2016 | University of California - Santa Cruz

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>