Geologist skeptical of life on Mars
In the world of science, seeing is believing -- and sometimes even that isn't enough. A well-known University of Minnesota geologist joined eight North Dakota State University faculty members and students Wednesday to pore over photos and data th...
In the world of science, seeing is believing -- and sometimes even that isn't enough.
A well-known University of Minnesota geologist joined eight North Dakota State University faculty members and students Wednesday to pore over photos and data that NASA claims are evidence Mars once could have supported life.
The rover Opportunity found lots of sulfur in an outcropping of Martian rock, NASA scientists said Tuesday. Related clues suggest the sulfur is in the form of salts, an indicator the rocks were once soaked with water.
Professor emeritus Paul Weiblen, a moon rock researcher and the U of M's representative to the Universities Space Research Association, agreed with the scientists' interpretation of the data, but didn't seem too surprised.
After all, he said, it's known that Mars' polar caps contain ice. Canyons and other geological features suggest water flowed across the Red Planet at some point, he said.
"This just seems to be in the same direction," he said.
Another sign of water on Mars was "blueberries" -- round, BB-sized particles captured by the rover's microscope imager.
Scientists believe the spherules are likely concretions that formed from minerals accumulating inside a porous, water-soaked rock.
The NASA photos also show thin voids, called vugs, which may have been created by eroding Martian rock.
"They infer there was at least liquid water there long enough to do those chemical things," said NDSU assistant professor Ken Leppert, who hosted Tuesday's "Lunch on Mars" in Stevens Hall.
Bernhardt Saini-Eidukat, NDSU associate professor of geology, said the question is how certain NASA scientists are in identifying the exact minerals.
"We need a sample return mission, even if it's robotic," he said.
Weiblen agreed, saying robotic exploration is effective and less expensive than a manned mission to Mars.
"But the irresistible attraction of outer space for humans is a factor that can't be overlooked," he said.
With all of the recent discussion about life on Mars, the group had some fun speculating on the origins of a rotini-shaped item found in the Martian rock.
One professor pulled out an eerily similar shaped fossil of a bryozoan, a primitive sea organism.
"That's it! That's it!" Weiblen said, laughing.
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