back to article Martian 'ice cauldrons' are prime spot to hunt LGMs, say boffins

One of the reasons it's so hard to find life on Mars is that hardly anwyhere we've spotted on the red planet combines liquid water and survivable temperatures. Now a study from the University of Texas (UT) suggests such a place may exist, because it once had enough volcanic activity to produce the right conditions. The …

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Dryer prospects!

It takes at least 10 and possibly up to 10,000 times longer on Mars to reach the same levels of rust formation than in the driest deserts on Earth and points to the present-day extreme aridity that has persisted on Mars for millions of years.

That's damned dry!

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Re: Dryer prospects!

At last! Somewhere to keep 70's Fiat. Shame they all dissolved years ago.

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Alien

LGMs?

Life-giving molecules? Oh, little green men, right...

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Re: LGMs?

It's the Local Government Martians they have to worry about. Landing permits, exploration permits, drilling permits, etc. They've managed to stay under the LGM radar so far.

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Alien

Re: LGMs?

That would be Local Government Morons...

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Re: LGMs?

I had a Fiat 125S. I loved that car. It lasted, ooh, several years before it dissolved.

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Re: LGMs?

When I saw the acronym the first thing that popped into my head was 'LESBIAN, GAY, MARTIANS.

Then thought why around water.... then remembered my cousin, she has a jacuzzi.... that must be it..... search for water on Mars and you will find all the Jacuzzi's

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Alien

Planetary Protection Programme

According to this month's Sky at Night, space probes are not permitted into areas where life is most likely to be found, because fears of contamination by Earth extremophile organisms.

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Re: Planetary Protection Programme

I think you probably mistook what you heard. Spacecraft intended to land anywhere there may possibly be life, or which could conceivably crash into such a place after the spacecraft's mission ends (ie., when it's out of fuel) are vigorously and enthusiastically sterilised to within an inch of their lives before they fly. That's one of the reasons they're built in very clean clean rooms like the JPL High Bay:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=2995

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Stop

Re: Planetary Protection Programme

Nope, sorry that's not right. I've worked on a Mars mission, so you can actually take this as relatively authorative. The problem with going to areas containing a high probabilities of life are that your cleanliness requirements are massive.

To give you an example. InSight (the mission I worked on, flies in 2018) is going to Mars, but not a particularly life friendly region. Just a a standard region. Our requirement was a maximum spore count of 10,000 spores per square metre. To put that in context, your finger tip holds a couple of million to a hundred million spores. So in other words we needed to be SUPER clean! So we are talking high level clean rooms, bunny suits, double gloving, multiple cleaning stages, the whole shebang.

We were also limited to only going 5m deep. The reason for that is, that under 5m is such an unknown area, going there would have bumped us into the high probability of life category (probably not because it has a high probability of life, but because no one has a clue what's down there and no one wants to take the chance of contaminating it, just in case). The requirements would have then been so restrictive we never would have got the mission off the ground. I forget the exact figure but you're then talking about spore counts in the single digits per square metre. Someone sneezing in the next room is enough to contaminate your spacecraft. To go in those areas you need the mission to be planned and dedicated to it at the start and be prepared for some pretty high costs!

The reason we do our best not to contaminate other planets, is purely for Science. We do not want to ruin the scientific discoveries of the next mission that goes travelling past our mission...

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Re: Planetary Protection Programme

But do aliens take the same level of protection when they came here, kidnap red-necks in the middle of the country side and do probing of their various orifices?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Planetary Protection Programme

> But do aliens take the same level of protection when they came here, kidnap red-necks in the middle of the country side and do probing of their various orifices?

Yes. They are extremely careful not to leave any verifiable traces.

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Re: Planetary Protection Programme

More here:- https://planetaryprotection.nasa.gov/overview

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Boffin

Re: Planetary Protection Programme

I am a bit confused by your statement:

"We do not want to ruin the scientific discoveries of the next mission that goes travelling past our mission..."

with reference to Mars.

My logic goes thus;

1. We are looking to the future to colonise a new world

2. Mars appears to be favourite and feasible (at some point in the future)

3. We will end up contaminating the planet anyway

So, doesn't it make sense to allow a few earthly microbes to land there as part of the eventual in-habitation of said planet?

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Re: Planetary Protection Programme

@YourAlienOverlord - I think they give the probe a cursory wipe between rednecks.

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Re: Planetary Protection Programme

If Mars contains bacterial life, it would be nice to be able to study it before accidentally killing the whole species through contamination.

Same goes for any full-size LGMs living underground.

And in that case, I'd like to think we wouldn't go inhabit Mars if we find any LGM there. It is their planet, not ours.

It would also be good to know that the bacteria we captured there isn't just random Earth bacteria which we stupidly brought with us.

And we may find that if we leave bacteria there and it can survive in those conditions, that the Martian conditions cause it to mutate in to something particularly odd and nasty, killing us all the first time we take off our helmets after terraforming.

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Go

Re: Planetary Protection Programme

Hey Fizzle,

The colonization of Mars is a long way off, right now we are still in the "searching for extraterrestrial life stage".

Think how annoyed you would be, if you sent a mission to mars with the express purpose of finding extraterrestrial life. You're doing your research and suddenly bang you have a reading - you've found life. Cue champagne! Then someone points out that it looks suspiciously like an earth microbe, and upon further investigation you discover that probe that was here 10 years earlier wasn't cleaned properly, and you've just picked up on what it left behind. From that point on, you are going to have to waste a lot of time and work really hard any time you find a positive signal to prove that it's a real signal and not just some dirty bugger before you leaving a mess.

In other words, we are really just trying to be clean, so that when future missions come to a new area, they can say categorically that this is a clean pristine area, and what we discover here is real and definitively Martian in origin...

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Re: Planetary Protection Programme

"And in that case, I'd like to think we wouldn't go inhabit Mars if we find any LGM there. It is their planet, not ours."

Humans haven't been particularly bothered in the past about wiping out entire colonies of other humans when colonising somewhere so what do you reckon are the odds that a bunch of bacteria will stop it if the technology matures to the point where its feasible?

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Devil

Re: Planetary Protection Programme

OK I accept your synopsis!

I don't understand why we are searching for life outside our planet. My point was, I suppose, let's spend those billions on getting to Mars sooner rather than later, and not worry about contamination at this stage: let's get established first and worry about protocols later.

We do far more damage to the Earth's atmosphere etc., launching things into space, to worry about a few microbes in some corner of a Martian plain that was forever Mars.

IMHO!

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Re: Planetary Protection Programme

"And in that case, I'd like to think we wouldn't go inhabit Mars if we find any LGM there. It is their planet, not ours."

Not if they don't have a flag!

If it works for countries, it'll work for planets.

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Re: Planetary Protection Programme

"what do you reckon are the odds that a bunch of bacteria will stop it if the technology matures to the point where its feasible?"

Those odd are, as you imply, a certainty (given enough time, anything is a certainty)

But it will be cheaper and easier overall to sterilise a probe now than a whole planet later.

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Re: Planetary Protection Programme

" let's spend those billions on getting to Mars sooner rather than later"

Yeah sure, that's fair enough.

But remember - there are no shortcuts, there is only "the right way" and "the slightly longer way that might appear cheaper in the short term but you might need to throw the whole thing away and start again later"

The cheap short term option is to not waste those "billions" now.

The "[short] right way" is to sterilise the probes so we don't waste X*billions and many years later.

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Just because there is liquid water and a bit of heat doesn't mean life appeared. You need a catalyst to start the whole living thing. So unless a bacteria laden meteor crashed into the ice sheet, got through it and settled in a nice warm bath for a few millenia, life is still unlikely.

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Anonymous Coward

> unless a bacteria laden meteor crashed into the ice sheet, got through it and settled in a nice warm bath for a few millenia, life is still unlikely.

Riiiiight.

Mars is about 4.5 billion years old; the entire universe is about 13.8 billion years old.

So, you are saying that even under the right conditions it is impossible for life to evolve in one place within 4.5 billion years? But you have no problem that it evolved *somewhere else* within 13.8 billion years?

P.S. A millenium is only a thousand years.

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Holmes

"...life is still unlikely."

And when it is (!) found, then it is important that this unlikeliness isn't bolstered by bad hygene.

i.e. "Oh it's probably from the probe- God says we're special in the whole Universe..."

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Alien

Re: "...life is still unlikely."

FUCK THAT!

"Invade the Universe, Invite the Universe ... Impregnate the Universe"

Inb4 "Mars Lives Matter"

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Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble

One correction to a cool article: Cauldrons are a feature of Icelandic volcanoes, the two most famous being Katla under the Mýrdalsjökull and Grimsvötn under the larger Vatnajökull. There are no active volcanoes in Greenland.

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Nice site

Too hilly for a solar roadway. If there are some lava tubes nearby, those might do for a base though. Gotta start somewhere.

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