Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Hot spots on Mars give hunt for life new target

06.08.2003


Ice Tower on Mt Erebus, Antarctica


Giant hollow towers of ice formed by steaming volcanic vents on Ross Island, Antarctica are providing clues about where to hunt for life on Mars.

University of Melbourne geologist, Dr Nick Hoffman has found evidence from recent infra-red images of Mars that similar structures may exist on Mars and, if life is to be found, such towers may be best place to start looking.

Hoffman has drawn attention to strange temperature anomalies in these latest Mars images taken with an infra-red heat-sensing camera on the Mars Odyssey orbiter. These anomalies, he says, fit the signature you might expect from structures formed in similar ways to the Antarctica ice towers.



"If these thermal anomalies don’t prove to be another of Mars’ "red herrings", the search for water and life on Mars now has a clear focus. While I believe Mars is actually lifeless, ice towers rather than the current acclaimed river channels are the most likely place to find signs of water activity, and hence life, on an otherwise frozen planet," says Hoffman.

Hoffman and colleague, Professor Phil Kyle, Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, New Mexico, presented their research into the similarities between Antarctica and Mars at NASA´s recent 6th International Mars Conference in Pasadena, California.

Mt Erebus is a 3800 metre active volcano on Antarctica’s Ross Island. Here, steaming volcanic vents transform steam directly into ice, missing the normal in-between step of liquid water. Instead, all of the water is transported as vapour directly from snow and ice in the ground (permafrost) to build tall hollow chimneys of ice, that loom over the landscape up to 10m tall.

It is possible to climb down the inside the chimneys where the filtered sunlight creates an eerie blue dimness. In this cave-like grotto, away from the howling wind, there exists a local microclimate gently warmed by the volcanic heat beneath.

The internal temperatures of the towers hover around freezing, but are often tens of degrees warmer than the outside air. Delicate curtains of snowflakes and icicles hang from the roof. The floor is dry crunchy gravel, dried out by volcanic warmth, but occasionally a warm spell leads to drips melting from the roof.

"Earth Bacteria can thrive in this sheltered spot, despite the traces of volcanic gas," says Hoffman. "On Mars, similar structures would be doubly valuable for potential Mars microbes. The icy structure of the chimney would filter out harmful Ultra-Violet radiation, and provide warmth and shelter. Meanwhile, the volcanic gases could provide chemical energy for primitive forms of life like those that live in hot springs on earth," he says.

The strange temperature anomalies picked up by the orbiter are in an area of Hellas Basin, a massive impact basin about the size of Australia in the southern Hemisphere of Mars.

"Debate continues about the anomalies which might only be odd rock formations, but they are definitely 8 to 12 degrees warmer than the surrounding materials both day and night, so warmth from the sun cannot be responsible for their anomalous temperature," says Hoffman.

"Some special combination of sunshine, reflectivity, and cementation is required to explain these temperatures in any other way, and this combination, whilst possible, is unlikely," he says.

"We anticipate that such towers, if they exist on Mars, could grow up to 30 metres tall under the lower gravity. The geothermal hotspots over which a tower might exist are unlikely to produce liquid water, unless they are exceptionally active or newly formed where the extensive permafrost of Mars might melt for the first and only time. Instead the hotspot would drive the water vapour upwards forming a similar grotto-chimney type of ice tower as found on Mt Erebus.

Water on Mars

Until now, NASA scientists have thought deep gullies discovered in 2001 to be the most promising candidates for liquid water flows on modern Mars. Many NASA researchers have suggested ways in which they might be formed by liquid water.

"The problem is nobody has seen water flowing in the gullies," says Hoffman.
Rather than water, Hoffman’s recent research shows the gullies are more likely to be formed by avalanches of frozen carbon dioxide and other debris.

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 research and analysis is correct. "The ice towers are the best bet for life, so far," he says.

Contact:

Dr Nick Hoffman
School of Earth Sciences, Uni of Melbourne
Email: nhoffman@unimelb.edu.au

Jason Major | The University of Melbourne
Further information:
http://www.earthsci.unimelb.edu.au/mars

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Climate cycles may explain how running water carved Mars' surface features
02.12.2016 | Penn State

nachricht What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?
02.12.2016 | University of Toronto

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

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

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>