Thursday, February 17, 2005

Mars Has Women!

...or possibly just asexual anaerobic bacteria. At least, that's what two NASA scientists seem to think. The evidence? A correlation between water vapor and methane density in the martian atmosphere, indicating perhaps that both come from a commmon souce - underground Martian aquifers. And on Earth, at least, the main emitter of methane is primitive bacteria. In all likelihood, direct confirmation (or disproval) of this is going to require several more exploratory Mars missions. And the depth of the aquifers, as of now a fairly unknown variable, could prove severe enough that purely robotic missions may never be able to penetrate to them.

A couple of days ago (right before this story broke), I was lucky enough to attend a symposium where Steve Squyres presented the findings and history of the two Mars rovers. One quote of his in particular stands out in my mind: "what a human being could do in thirty seconds, it takes our rovers three days to accomplish." Bush's proposals in this area don't seem to have gotten much attention lately, from the administration or from the media, but I think now is a good time to reflect on what a manned mission to Mars would have to offer.


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