Smooth bluish areas on a Martian crater floor could be ponds, according to two scientists. The area is approximately 1 square metre – Image Credit: Ron Levin (as appeared in article, New Scientist)
Blue Areas On The Red Orb
A deeper analysis of the images taken on Mars surface (JPL website) stir the debate on whether there is standing water … puddles of water on Mars.
In a report to be published in the journal IEEE Xplore, R. L. Levin and Daniel Lyddy detail their investigation of possible liquid water ponds on the Martian surface (2007 IEEE Aerospace Applications Conference Proceedings, paper #1376).
Through stereoscopic reconstruction of the images captured by the Mars Rover, Opportunity, Lockheed engineers were able to highlight surface details that just might prove the existence of water on Mars.
Excerpts from the New Scientist –
Mars rover finds "puddles" on the planet's surface
By David Chandler - NewScientist.com news service - 15:33 08 June 2007
The report identifies specific spots that appear to have contained liquid water two years ago, when Opportunity was exploring a crater called Endurance. It is a highly controversial claim, as many scientists believe that liquid water cannot exist on the surface of Mars today because of the planet’s thin atmosphere.
If confirmed, the existence of such ponds would significantly boost the odds that living organisms could survive on or near the surface of Mars, says physicist Ron Levin, the report's lead author, who works in advanced image processing at the aerospace company Lockheed Martin in Arizona.
Along with fellow Lockheed engineer Daniel Lyddy, Levin used images from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's website. The resulting stereoscopic reconstructions, made from paired images from the Opportunity rover's twin cameras, show bluish features that look perfectly flat. The surfaces are so smooth that the computer could not find any surface details within those areas to match up between the two images.
The imaging shows that the areas occupy the lowest parts of the terrain. They also appear transparent: some features, which Levin says may be submerged rocks or pebbles, can be seen below the plane of the smooth surface.
Smooth surface - The smoothness and transparency of the features could suggest either water or very clear ice, Levin says.
"The surface is incredibly smooth, and the edges are in a plane and all at the same altitude," he says. "If they were ice or some other material, they'd show wear and tear over the surface, there would be rubble or sand or something."
His report was presented at a conference of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and will be published later this year in the institute's proceedings.
Speedy evaporation? - Levin and other reasearchers, including JPL's Michael Hecht, have published calculations showing the possibility of "micro-environments" where water could linger, but the idea remains controversial.
“The temperatures get plenty warm enough, but the Mars atmosphere is essentially a vacuum," says Phil Christensen of Arizona State University, developer of the Mars rovers' mini-Thermal Emission Spectrometers. That means any water or ice exposed on the surface evaporates or sublimes away almost instantly, he says.
If there were absolutely no wind, says Christensen, you might build up a stagnant layer of vapour above a liquid surface, preventing it from evaporating too fast. “The problem is, there are winds on Mars… In the real world, I think it's virtually impossible," he told New Scientist.
Simple test - Levin disagrees. He says his analysis shows that there can be wind-free environments at certain times of day in certain protected locations. He thinks that could apply to these small depressions inside the sheltered bowl of Endurance crater, at midday in the Martian summer.
He adds that highly briny water, as is probably found on Mars, could be stable even at much lower temperatures.
Although the rover is now miles away from this site, Levin proposes a simple test that would prove the presence of liquid if similar features are found: use the rover's drill on the surface of the flat area. If it is ice, or any solid material, the drill will leave unmistakable markings, but if it is liquid there should be no trace of the drill's activity.