The Lakes of Mars

Guest “Let’s light this candle! Part Deux” by David Middleton

Water on Mars: discovery of three buried lakes intrigues scientists
Researchers have detected a group of lakes hidden under the red planet’s icy surface.

Jonathan O’Callaghan

Two years ago, planetary scientists reported the discovery of a large saltwater lake under the ice at Mars’s south pole, a finding that was met with excitement and some scepticism. Now, researchers have confirmed the presence of that lake — and found three more.

The discovery, reported on 28 September in Nature Astronomy1, was made using radar data from the European Space Agency’s Mars-orbiting spacecraft, called Mars Express. It follows the detection of a single subsurface lake in the same region in 2018 — which, if confirmed, would be the first body of liquid water ever detected on the red planet and a possible habitat for life. But that finding was based on just 29 observations made from 2012 to 2015, and many researchers said they needed more evidence to support the claim. The latest study used a broader data set comprising 134 observations from 2012 to 2019.

“We identified the same body of water, but we also found three other bodies of water around the main one,” says planetary scientist Elena Pettinelli at the University of Rome, who is one of the paper’s co-authors. “It’s a complex system.”

The team used a radar instrument on Mars Express called the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) to probe the planet’s southern polar region. MARSIS sends out radio waves that bounce off layers of material in the planet’s surface and subsurface. The way the signal is reflected back indicates the kind of material that is present at a particular location — rock, ice or water, for example. A similar method is used to identify subsurface glacial lakes on Earth. The team detected some areas of high reflectivity that they say indicate bodies of liquid water trapped under more than one kilometre of Martian ice.



Why do they think these are lakes?

The Mars Express spacecraft carries an instrument called MARSIS.

MARSIS is a subsurface radar sounder with a 40-meter (130-foot) antenna on the Mars Express orbiter that will search for water and study the atmosphere.

Once Mars Express is in orbit around Mars, the MARSIS antenna will unfurl and begin its radar analysis. The main objective of MARSIS is to look for water from the martian surface down to about 5 kilometers (3 miles) below. It will provide the first opportunity to detect liquid water directly. It will also be able to characterize the surface elevation, roughness, and radar reflectivity of the planet and to study the interaction of the atmosphere and solar wind in the red planet’s ionosphere. During the lifetime of the mission, the instrument will be able to conduct ground-penetrating studies over the entire planet. [More on MARSIS: Searching for Water and Studying the Atmosphere]

How MARSIS Works

The technique used by this radar instrument has been used before on Earth. Similar instruments have been flown on low-flying aircraft to probe deep into the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland. At Mars, the instrument with its long antenna will fly over the planet, bouncing radio waves over a selected area and then receiving and analyzing the “echoes.” Any near-surface liquid water should send a strong signal, while ice would be more difficult to detect since its electrical radar signal would be about the same as rock. The echoes will also help characterize the materials and roughness of the surface.


MARSIS is a ground/ice penetrating radar instrument.

MARSIS: Subsurface Sounding Radar/Altimeter. MPS

The Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS) on board ESA’s Mars Express will employ ground penetrating radar to map underground water (if it exists) on Mars. Low frequency waves will be directed towards the planet from a 40 m long antenna which will be unfurled after Mars Express goes into orbit. The radio waves will be reflected from any surface they encounter. In most cases this will be the surface of Mars, but because low frequencies are used, a significant fraction will travel through the crust to encounter further layers of different material – perhaps even water. Analysis of the echoes produced will reveal much about the composition of the top 5 km of the crust.


MARSIS is somewhat analogous to the reflection seismic surveys we use to map subsurface geology and identify hydrocarbon accumulations. In many geologic settings, particularly Cenozoic rocks in places like the Gulf of Mexico, hydrocarbon accumulations are associated with bright reflection events (“bright spots,” Direct Hydrocarbon Indicators). Subglacial lakes on Earth are also associated with bright radar reflections. MARSIS has identified several coherent bright reflection events at the interface of the south polar ice/dust layer and the Martian crust.

Vertical radar profile. ASU Red Planet Report
Map display of radar amplitude extraction. ASU Red Planet Report

If these are subglacial lakes of liquid water, it would be a very significant discovery. However, until we drill through the Martian icecaps to see what’s underneath, we’ll never know whether these are bodies of liquid water, slush or something else.

There appear to be extensive fluvial and fluvio-lacustrine features on Mars (sedimentary formations formed by and in streams, rivers and lakes). If these features were the result of subglacial fluvio-lacustrine processes, it would be consistent with the presence of these subglacial lakes today. The conditions that enable the presence of liquid water also appear to allow for the existence of life. These potential subglacial lakes are probably hyper-saline, and not conducive to the presence of life today. However, it does appear that in the distant past, liquid water was common on the Martian surface or beneath glacial ice. If life ever evolved on Mars, fossil evidence for it should be present in the sedimentary rocks, particularly the mudstones deposited in Mars’ ancient lakes.

Gale Crater – Curiosity Rover

April 27, 2020
​This map of the Red Planet shows Jezero Crater, where NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is scheduled to land in February 2021. Also included are the locations where all of NASA’s other successful Mars missions touched down.

We Just Got More Solid Evidence Mars’ Gale Crater Once Held a Vast Salty Lake


From its red and rugged surface, Mars looks like a lifeless planet, both dry and desolate. But that hasn’t always been the case.

NASA’s Curiosity Rover has now collected even more evidence of an ancient salty lake that once lapped the edges of the Gale crater some 3.7 billion years ago.

Analysing soil samples collected from the crater’s bedrock, researchers from Caltech have turned up a diverse range of salts not observed in other rocks on Mars.

Dating back roughly 3.3 to 3.7 billion years ago, the team proposes that these sulfates are left over from evaporated water, indicating the existence of ancient brines, or salty pools, that could have once held tiny forms of life.

Satellite observations of the Red Planet certainly suggest that during this time frame, known as the Hesperian period, some sort of climatic transition took place. And now, the discovery of evaporated salts also indicates a shift to more arid weather on a similar timeline.

The calcium and magnesium sulfates discovered are predicted to have come from Martian basalts, producing soils rich in sulfate and chloride and poor in iron.


Science Alert

The Curiosity rover has taught us a lot about the sedimentary geology of Gale crater over the past 8 years.

Curiosity has been the closest thing yet to having human field geologists on Mars. It even has a hand lens (MAHLI, Mars Hand Lens Imager).

Curiosity rover’s instruments. NASA

Curiosity is providing sufficiently detailed observations to construct stratigraphic columns.

“Stratigraphic columns for: (left) all sedimentary rocks encountered at Gale to Sol 1200.” Thompson et al., (2016)

Curiosity has enabled the identification of geological formations that are morphologically consistent with fossil microbial life on Earth. Although, won’t know if these formations are related to fossilized microbial life until human geologists and paleontologists examine them. Even then, we might not know for sure.

Jezero Crater – Perseverance Rover

The Perseverance rover is currently en route to Mars and expected to land on 18 February 2021.

It will explore Jezero crater, where evidence of both clay mineralogy (phyllosilicates) and lacustrine carbonates have been detected. Perseverance will cache rock and regolith samples for potential future recovery.

Deltaic feature in Jezero crater on Mars. NASA

NASA’s Mars 2020 will land in Jezero Crater, pictured here. The image was taken by instruments on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which regularly takes images of potential landing sites for future missions.

On ancient Mars, water carved channels and transported sediments to form fans and deltas within lake basins. Examination of spectral data acquired from orbit show that some of these sediments have minerals that indicate chemical alteration by water. Here in Jezero Crater delta, sediments contain clays and carbonates.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASULast Updated: June 18, 2019Editor: Yvette Smith

Tags:  Image of the DayMarsMars Perseverance Rover


While robotic geologists can tell us a lot about Martian geology, they probably will never be able to tell us if there is fossil evidence of past life.

Why We Can’t Depend on Robots to Find Life on Mars
By Meghan Bartels August 22, 2018

A Senate subcommittee asked for reasons to support sending humans to Mars, and, boy, did they get one from Ellen Stofan, NASA’s former chief scientist.

Stofan, who now leads the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, argued that if we truly want to find and understand any potential traces of ancient life on the Red Planet, robots can’t do it alone — we’ll need humans on the ground.

“While I’m optimistic that life did evolve on Mars, I’m not optimistic that it got very complex, so we’re talking about finding fossil microbes,” Stofan told a Senate subcommittee devoted to science issues on Aug. 1, adding that those fossils would be incredibly hard to find. [The Search for Life on Mars (A Photo Timeline)]


Robots versus humans

Mars has attracted eight successful landers and rovers over the years, with its highest-profile current resident being NASA’s Curiosity rover. That mission was carefully designed to look for places where life might once have thrived — but not to look for traces of that life.

And it has done just that, identifying mudstones in Gale Crater as particularly promising and spotting ancient organic molecules not necessarily created by life. But robots aren’t perfect, and there are still plenty of lingering questions about Martian geology, he added. “There are rocks that rovers have visited and imaged and analyzed and we’re still arguing about what they are,” McMahon said. [Ancient Mars Lakes & Laser Blasts: Curiosity Rover’s 10 Biggest Moments in 1st 5 Years]


Because Martian life likely never got larger than microbial, the features scientists are looking for are going to fit within a robot’s view. But there are some ways humans still outpace robots, particularly when it comes to looking at the bigger picture of life on Mars. “Biologists, geologists and chemists on the ground could do more than identify evidence of past life on Mars,” Stofan told the senators. “They could study its variation, complexity and relationship to life on Earth much more effectively than our robotic emissaries.”

And Westall said that she doesn’t think robots will ever match human geologists for their knowledge and instincts in the field, or their productivity. “I’m a geologist and I go into the field and I need to see things with my eyes, and if I had the chance I’d go to Mars,” she said. “A human geologist can do in a week what the Mars rovers can do in a year.”


“A human geologist can do in a week what the Mars rovers can do in a year.”

Out of this world driving distances NASA

Apollo 17 astronauts Jack Schmitt (a human geologist) and Gene Cernan covered nearly 36 km in 22 EVA hours during their 3 day stay on the Moon. Curiosity took 7 years to cover 20 km on Mars. The rovers are great… They even carry the lab with them into the field… But only humans can recognize and convey the context of their observations, particularly if they are trained field observers.

How do you get a group of test pilot/engineers interested in a bunch of rocks? How can you teach these hard-nosed astronauts to be geologist detectives around rocks and soil, especially on the surface of the Moon? For some time the Apollo astronauts (and would-be geology students) had been bombarded with jargon filled classroom geology lectures that did not excite them. This had been a nagging problem for NASA as they prepared for the Moon landings. After all, one cannot spend billions of dollars going to our nearest planetary neighbour just for pretty pictures.

Neil Armstrong himself broke the mission parameters, exploring beyond the Apollo 11 landing camera’s field of view to collect 80 kilograms of interesting lunar rock samples. He began the “meat part” of the Apollo missions, but not seeing where he had collected the rocks from, there was no detailed context to their story.

Enter Caltech Professor of Geology Lee Silver. As an Apollo lunar sample investigator, Silver had been invited by his old student Harrison “Jack” Schmitt to meet with James Lovell and Fred Haise (assigned to Apollo 13) to discuss teaching the astronauts some basic field geology.

Given the chance to spend a week proving his teaching methods and the absolute need for good planetary science on Apollo, Silver took a party of astronauts on a camping field trip into the Californian Orocopia Mountains.

With the beautiful Orocopias at their feet, Silver’s students including James Lovell, Fred Haise, John Young, Charlie Duke and Jack Schmitt, entered a new and beautiful world of geological discovery. Silver began organising further cross country field trips with a hungry enthusiasm, investigative acumen and sharpness akin to a test pilot’s that spoke the same language and spread among his Apollo apprentices.

Soon after, further astronauts joined the field trips including David Scott and James Irwin whose geological findings from Apollo 15 are attributable to Professor Silver’s teachings.

Using the Earth’s natural environment as a stand in for the Moon’s was a masterstroke. The new geology students practiced dress rehearsals of their missions, standing by Lunar Module substitutes (trees) and describing the 360 degree landscape views as a geologist would.

Interpreting each other’s detailed descriptions each of the astronauts became quick students in geological observation. Under Silver’s tutelage, their innate curiosity ran wild, collecting a variety (or a “suite”) of rock samples each one telling a line in the story about the evolution of the Orocopia Mountains. Silver imposed time and sample limits on collecting these rock suites, just as the astronauts would face on the Moon and their rock collections became more refined, much to the later benefit of the actual missions.

Observing and sampling within the exposed strata of geological time on the Earth, the Apollo astronauts, now armed with the tools of scientific observation, were prepared to tell the story of the Moon.

When the true scientific “J” missions began on Apollo, Silver himself was in the back-room of Mission Control steering the geology ground teams and acting as a back seat driver for the lunar roving astro-geologists on the Moon.

Dave Scott and Jim Irwin had been trained to find anorthosite during their Apollo 15 mission, a piece of the primordial lunar crust that would prove the Moon’s age. On August 1, 1971 on Hadley Delta, Scott radioed back to the ground that he and Irwin had found just that. The “Genesis” rock would later prove to be 4.5 billion years old giving rise to the widely accepted theory that a Mars sized body had collided with the Earth spinning off matter that later formed the Moon.

Silver himself described this find as “hitting a home run” which validated his supreme teaching efforts to embed science within the Apollo missions.

Were it not for Lee Silver, the Moon’s story and relationship with the Earth would still be relatively unknown. His unique and exciting teaching methods imbued a sense of urgent exploration, not just of the Moon but of science, always looking to push the boundaries of knowledge and follow the observational evidence wherever it leads.

Lee Silver points out some geological observations to his astro-geologists in training, Charlie Duke and John Young. Credit: NASA/U.S. Geological Survey via Retro Space Images. UNSUNG HEROES OF THE APOLLO PROGRAM

You see the story yet? It’s all pretty much here.

In a language you can’t yet understand, but it’s here.

A tale of upheaval and battles won and lost.

Gothic tales of sweeping change, peaceful times, and then great trauma again.

And it all connects to our little friend.

That’s what we are, we geologists.


Interpreters, actually.

That’s what you gentlemen are going to become.

And how does this relate to the moon? From 240,000 miles away you have to give the most complete possible description of what you’re seeing.

Not just which rocks you plan to bring back but their context.

That and knowing which ones to pick up in the first place is what might separate you guys from those little robots.

You know, the ones some jaded souls think should have your job.You see, you have to become our eyes and ears out there.

And for you to do that, you first have to learn the language of this little rock here.

David Clennon as Dr. Leon (Lee) Silver, From the Earth to the Moon, Episode 10, Galileo Was Right, 1998 (Moon Rock Mineralogy: Yes, the Apollo missions were real, QEDirt)

A robot would not know how to look for the right rocks or explain their context. The astronauts were trained to collect a “suite” of rock samples.

The Suite

Now, we can, if we’re very clever, we can figure out a lot about an area like this by putting together what we call “the suite”. What the hell is he talking about? The suite. I’m talking about a dozen hand-sized rocks that tell the story of this place in all of its diversity from the typical, right to the exotic. You got ten minutes.

David Clennon as Dr. Leon (Lee) Silver, From the Earth to the Moon, Episode 10, Galileo Was Right, 1998 (Moon Rock Mineralogy: Yes, the Apollo missions were real, QEDirt)

No robot could have collected a suite of rocks and conveyed the context of those rocks the way the astronauts did, particularly during the J missions.


Lauro, S.E., Pettinelli, E., Caprarelli, G. et al. Multiple subglacial water bodies below the south pole of Mars unveiled by new MARSIS data. Nat Astron (2020).

Orosei, R. et al. Radar evidence of subglacial liquid water on Mars. Science (2018).

Thompson, L. M., et al. (2016), Potassium‐rich sandstones within the Gale impact crater, Mars: The APXS perspective, J. Geophys. Res. Planets, 121, 1981– 2003, doi:10.1002/2016JE005055.

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October 1, 2020 6:37 am

David Midleton

‘Curiosity has been the closest thing ye yet to having human field geologists on Mars. It even has a hand lens (MAHLI, Mars Hand Lens Imager).”

Typing boo boo…..

October 1, 2020 6:52 am

There is a book to write here.

Casual Reader
October 1, 2020 7:10 am
Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  David Middleton
October 1, 2020 2:47 pm

Maybe New York and California could use the same advertisement to draw back their refugees from dystopia.

Well…probably not California.

Reply to  Casual Reader
October 1, 2020 10:07 am

And it’s only a little bit colder.

October 1, 2020 7:20 am

Human space travel back to the Moon and on to Mars will be the icing on the cake, and to do mundane maintenance and repairs on future space and planetary exploration/resource extraction. But robots should probably be the focus for mass scale development of getting ready to send highly trained astronauts beyond the gravity well of Earth. Extraterrestrial geology is probably one of those icing on the cake necessities to fully understand those geological issues, in person. It is also one of the key reasons to go, at least for the exploration stage of the next century while we also commercialize space for the betterment of mankind economically with potential unlimited raw resources and energy ripe for the taking. Probably in ways not even yet fully understood. It is definitely part of our long term future and destiny. Mostly robots and AI, but also specialist astronauts to make sense of the science and keep all the hardware running.

Kevin kilty
October 1, 2020 7:25 am


If it weren’t for your occasional missives on these topics, I would lose sight of the space program entirely. As I have strong interests in geophysics rather than geology per se, I was surprised by the size of the antenna involved, which suggested low frequencies. Indeed. Here is a page from ESA regarding the frequencies of the chirped pulses. The receiving antenna having a null in the primary transmitting direction is interesting, as it will receive mainly diffuse reflections from subsurface layers, rather than specular type of reflections from exploration seismic work.

MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) is a low frequency, nadir-looking pulse limited radar sounder and altimeter with ground penetration capabilities, which uses synthetic aperture techniques and a secondary receiving antenna to isolate subsurface reflections.

The operation altitudes for MARSIS are up to 800 km above the Martian surface for subsurface sounding and up to 1200 km for ionospheric sounding. In its standard operating mode, the instrument is capable of making measurements in 1 MHz wide bands centred at 1.8, 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 MHz.

MARSIS functions by transmitting a linear frequency modulated chirp using a nadir-looking dipole antenna. The return signal is received on both the dipole antenna and a secondary monopole antenna oriented along the nadir axis. The secondary antenna has a null in the nadir direction and receives primarily the off-nadir surface reflections. This signal can be subtracted from the main received signal during ground processing to reduce surface clutter. Both received signals are down converted to range offset video signals before being passed to an analogue to digital converter. The resultant data are formatted by the MARSIS on-board digital processor and passed to the spacecraft for transmission to Earth.

Bruce Cobb
October 1, 2020 7:30 am

“The Martians Are Coming, The Martians Are Coming” would be a good title for a movie.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Bruce Cobb
October 1, 2020 9:41 am

we need them to come visit Nancy Pelosi.

John Tillman
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
October 1, 2020 10:30 am

I like the use of ’50s-style uniforms and tanks as an homage to scifi flicks of that decade.

Or maybe they just came more cheaply.

Bruce Cobb
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
October 1, 2020 11:15 am

In this movie, the Martian’s spaceship would get stuck on a mountain, and they would try mightily to get off it before being noticed and creating an intergalactic “incident”. Then some hikers happen to stumble onto them and all heck breaks loose. When people play Slim Whitman’s “Love Call”, the Martians just laugh and laugh.

October 1, 2020 7:31 am

That’s also why you don’t leave all the work to geophysics and engineers. Budget constraints mean you must all work together to target the most interesting paths.

October 1, 2020 8:30 am

Deltaic feature in Jezero crater on Mars. NASA
Who is naming this craters?
Jezero = lake (Serbo-Croat)

John Tillman
Reply to  David Middleton
October 1, 2020 10:16 am

The same or very similar in other extant West and South Slavic languages, and pretty close in East Slavic, eg Russian “ozyera” (озеро), Ukrainian “ozero” (озеро) and Belarusian “vozyera” (возера) (my transliterations).

John Tillman
Reply to  David Middleton
October 1, 2020 10:23 am

Jezero lies just on the Serbian side of the intra-Bosnian border, but in the western half of the Republika Srpska, so in the middle of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Reply to  David Middleton
October 1, 2020 10:33 am

More a village than a town
comment image
Plivsko Lake is about a mile along the river

John Tillman
Reply to  Vuk
October 1, 2020 11:52 am

Yeah. Dunno how of all towns named for lakes in the world, the Bosnian village made the cut.

Was Interlaken in the running?

Reply to  John Tillman
October 1, 2020 1:39 pm

I suspect someone who escaped ‘Balkan wars’ of 1990’s and found him/herself in NASA or International Astronomical Union.
Digging a bit further, New York times writes:
No one seems to remember who picked the name Jezero.
Ralph P. Harvey, a professor of geological sciences at Case Western, was among those who first pushed for the assignment of an official name when he proposed the crater as a potential landing site for the earlier Curiosity rover.
“I got tired of calling it ‘that crater in Nili Fossae,’” he said, referring to the wider fractured region surrounding the crater.
He turned to the International Astronomical Union, which has conventions for naming Martian craters.
Dr. Harvey’s suggestions were Kennan after a town in Wisconsin, and Novelty for one in Ohio.
Dr. Fassett suggested Tida, a town in Egypt, as a water-related pun.
Rita M. Schulz, who chairs the union’s working group for planetary system nomenclature, said her records indicated that the original proposed name was Stolac, a small Bosnian town, but that “was not regarded as a safe choice,” because of the destruction it suffered during the war that ravaged the country in the 1990s.
The records did not preserve who had offered the suggestion of Stolac. But Dr. Schulz said the replacement name of Jezero, another Bosnian town, must have come from Bradford A. Smith, a planetary scientist who was then chairman of a group that helped with assigning geographical names on Mars. Dr. Smith died in 2018.
Also see:

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
October 1, 2020 2:39 pm

So it was a collaboration. Someone unknown with a Bosnian connection got general agreement on a name from B-H, then Dr. Smith apparently noticed a village named “Lake”.

Jezero Crater could become more famous than Gale.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
October 1, 2020 2:49 pm

I looked up Stolac. It’s in Herzegovina, but now a border town. It still has a Bosniak (Muslim) majority, and before the Dayton Accords, Serbs outnumbered Croats. After the agreement, most Serbs moved across the border to a “suburb” in the RS.

Dayton seems to be working, but at the time I thought it would have made more sense for Croatia to absorb Herzegovina and Bosniak areas of Bosnia, while Serbia annexed the Serbian majority regions. However, that would have required even more population movement than has happened.

Reply to  John Tillman
October 1, 2020 3:08 pm

Oh, please don’t start them off again, they’ve just calmed down a bit; Franz Ferdinand should have never gone there.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
October 1, 2020 4:56 pm

You’re right. Franz was reckless; even moreso to take his consort with him.

He had to die because he was a reformer. Had he survived, the A-H Empire might have as well. However, both German and Hungarian elites were dubious about giving Slavic subjects proportiional representation in a triple, as opposed to dual, roman Catholic monarchy.

Reply to  John Tillman
October 2, 2020 6:24 am

Some did not heed Bismarck’s warning, especially both King Edward’s VII nephews Kaiser Wilhelm, and Czar Nicholas II :

The whole of the Balkans is not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier,

One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.

Edward VII got his belated wish.

October 1, 2020 9:29 am

Now that lake would be a good hidden fishing hole.

John Tillman
October 1, 2020 10:00 am

Should the lakes prove too salty for even the hardest-pumping microbes, that still leaves the less salty to fresh pockets of liquid water in ice. RNA forms spontaneously in such spaces, as well as under other conditions. But development of nucleic acid polymers might require a reliable energy source.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
October 1, 2020 12:51 pm

Could microbes arise and evolve to survive over time and thrive in perchlorate brine?

Bacterial Growth in Chloride and Perchlorate Brines: Halotolerances and Salt Stress Responses of Planococcus halocryophilus

I thought archaeans would do better than bacteria.

Doug Jones
October 1, 2020 10:35 am

Hypersaline water? Oh, just like Mojave tapwater, then.

Joel O'Bryan
October 1, 2020 11:10 am

Again, no one doubts the value-added of having humans on Mars doing the real-time exploring over a robot that has to sit and waiting for days or weeks for humans back on Earth to decide its next movements.
That is not the REAL issue.

There are 2 real issues with Manned-Mars that NASA and the US Congress which will fund it with tax dollars must consider.
1) The cost of just one 4-astronaut Manned-Mars trip would be in the $Trillions when its all added up over a 2 decades. And they return maybe a few hundred kilos at most of Mars rocks. That 3-orders of magnitude more resources spent than on 1 robotic mission today. Not doing Manned-Mars would free up a lot of other money for other science. That amount of money could buy a lot of other Mars robotic science to the Martian poles and other areas of Mars, plus pay for a lot of other solar-system exploring robots to asteroids and gas giant moons, plus a lot of other science in disciplines far removed from space exploration. All of science would face funding sacrifices to pay for that Manned-Mars mission. Just to get a few hundred kilos of Mars rocks back, that over several robotic return missions could do the same thing for a lot, lot less.

2) Dead, dying, or extremely radiation-sickness affected geologist-astronauts wouldn’t be able to collect anything of value and get back to Earth with the booty on an 800 day Mars mission if they incur just one significant SEP event during the 200 day trip out to Mars. Then there are GCR events that we really don’t know yet how long-term exposure will affect human anatomy and physiology. Vision-blurring GCR induced ion tracks across the retinas could be real threats. Even more dangerous could be subtle, but insidious CNS effects like inability to concentrate, disrupted sleep patterns, irritability, that can come from prolonged low-level exposure to neutron radiation. Extended manned-lunar trips will help inform us a lot about the severity of these threats to Mars mission astronauts.
Then have have do the reverse trip to get back, arguably they could all die of radiation exposure on the return trip and the rocks could still arrive safely back at Earth LEO. But that wouldn’t be much of a legacy to be proud of for NASA or the USA. That is a real risk that Hollywood movies and TV shows ignore. The up-side is the planned Lunar missions will really tell us how feasible it will be to send manned missions out for 800 days beyond Earth’s low-orbit protective shielding.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
October 1, 2020 1:21 pm

I really like the idea of space tourism at least partially funding LEO transits, as that is the first step to getting anywhere such as the Moon or Mars. If funded from the private sector, that expense gets absorbed while launches to LEO get further perfected and hopefully reduced in price. Sell the ISS space station to private interests to develop into a tourist venture to fund it and keep it in orbit past the point of defunding by the international community when it was planned for decommissioning after 2024-2028 current time lines. The ISS is already up there, so selling it makes more sense than de-orbiting it as might be the present plan.

Concentrating on the Moon with both robotics/AI and manned missions makes the most sense to develop the exact same efficient technologies that will enable a trip to Mars someday when we figure out the problems to overcome with space radiation events. Combine that with some space tourism by a consortium of billionaires to fund part of that as well. Given half a chance, the private market will more efficient use of resources getting to space and/or the Moon and back than Gov’t. Or a combination of both, with Gov’t funding science/R&D and the private market funding commercial access to space for satellite business and space tourism. The Space Force is a whole different kettle of fish. Our new adversary is China in Space so we better get moving.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
October 1, 2020 3:02 pm

Why do you send me (to) Mars !
Marcus Tullius Cicero, some 21 hundred years ago had couple of villas, villa rustica (country house) and the villa urbana (a gentleman’s city dwelling). As a Roman statesman and the most prominent intellectual and philosopher of the time Cicero had high appreciation of Greek art and he was ardent collector of classic statues for his villas. At one occasion when his agent sent him statue of Mars, Cicero as well known pacifist angrily exclaimed: “Why do you send me Mars!”, none of that old roman tat for Marcus Tullius.

Reply to  Vuk
October 1, 2020 8:42 pm

We go to Mars, and do the other thing(s), so that future generations can fight over the spoils. I always hoped that the space program would unite mankind, but considering the space age was born in conflict (from the V2 to the Russian space race) I am having doubts. And considering the whole exercise is for going to Mars and the asteroids, including back to the Moon, the ancients probably knew something about the long term future. At least the Greek god Ares, and the Roman god Mars, of which both was their god of war actually believed that. Just look up at the sky tonight around midnight with Moon and Mars near conjunction. Prepare for conflict long term.

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  Earthling2
October 1, 2020 9:06 pm

Was watching that last night driving through Saskatchewan

Whatever it lacks, sky resources isn’t one of them

Jean Parisot
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
October 1, 2020 11:13 pm

Why do you assume going to Mars is a round trip ticket? Go and stay.

October 1, 2020 12:08 pm

Invest now in lake front lots before they are all gone. Don’t forget your respirator and watch out for the self driving rovers.

John Tillman
Reply to  ResourceGuy
October 1, 2020 12:40 pm

The golf course will have to feature very long fairways.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  John Tillman
October 1, 2020 12:49 pm

sand traps everywhere. bring a wedge.

John Tillman
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
October 1, 2020 2:33 pm

The water hazards are chilly and salty. Good luck finding your ball.

Reply to  John Tillman
October 1, 2020 8:49 pm

Especially in a patch of frozen CO2 or ice. Better paint your balls black, cause they also going to be real chilled and nearly invisible otherwise.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  John Tillman
October 1, 2020 10:33 pm

I always have track of my balls.

October 1, 2020 12:10 pm

At first they were going to call it the Instrument for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding but the acronym was a little off putting.

October 1, 2020 12:23 pm

David Bowie has already asked that most important question: Is there life on Mars?

Robert Heinlein wrote about it as if he’d been there. If astronauts are really going to go there, they should name their spaceship either Podkayne of Mars, Willis, or R.A. Heinlein.

There were a lot of satellite photos of Mars back in the 1990s, like things on the surface that looked distinctly like pine trees, until someone figured out that they were oddball rock + frost formations. Those photos were in Science News. I wish I’d kept all that stuff.

Now I”m looking forward to finding out if Gekko and the Old Ones are up there living deep underground, and whether or not Willis did lay her eggs.

Matheus Carvalho
October 1, 2020 12:44 pm

There is life in hypersaline environments, just search for Artemia salina.

Moderately Cross of East Anglia
Reply to  Matheus Carvalho
October 1, 2020 2:04 pm

Briny pools, hmmm wonder if there might be any Martian shrimp left in there. Now that would be a hard choice for astronauts after a months long trip eating something nasty squeezed out of tubes. Report life or a sneaky but delicious toasted shrimp sandwich…decisions, decisions.

John Tillman
Reply to  Matheus Carvalho
October 1, 2020 2:57 pm

Brine “shrimp” are amazing creatures, with seemingly off-world traits, but they couldn’t survive in a perchlorate solution. Not all salts are created equal.

Gary Pearse
October 1, 2020 2:11 pm

“It’s a complex system.”

Such empty statements distract from valuable work. Nothing complex about four lakes in a cluster. In Manitoba, Canada alone, we have ~100,000 lakes, hundreds of clusters. I’m surprized that they didn’t suspect it earlier when they found the first one. The presence of any lake there is the surprise.

Michael S. Kelly
October 1, 2020 3:11 pm

Beginning with the first Viking lander on Mars, July 20, 1976, public interest in Mars surface images has been gigantic, and unabated. TV ratings for news broadcasts of the first images were through the roof. The first rovers that landed during the Internet era crashed the NASA image sites; despite creating a number of mirror sites for the next pair of rovers, those two crashed from the huge amount of traffic.

“I’m a geologist and I go into the field and I need to see things with my eyes, and if I had the chance I’d go to Mars,” said geologist Westall. I second that, and I’m not a geologist (though I’d become one). People are curious. My first thought on seeing the Viking images of surface rocks was: “What’s on the other side of that rock?” Probably just the back of the rock, but who knows?

I’m 66, and would eagerly sign up for a one-way ticket to Mars, just to see what’s on the other side of that rock.

Ian Coleman
October 2, 2020 1:37 am

What is wrong with you guys? I (proudly) do not care about anything on Mars. Also, Mars needs women. (I saw a movie about that once. ) That planet is angry and red. (I saw a movie about that too.) A little caution might be in order here, is what I’m saying.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Ian Coleman
October 3, 2020 8:53 pm

Are you a Marsophobe? How DARE you?!?!?

October 2, 2020 6:29 am

No geologists on Mars without fusion rocketry.

Who ordered a Moon at the limit of chemical engines, and Mars at the fusion horizon?

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