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Did Phoenix resolve the question of whether there's been surface/near surface liquid water when Mars' axis was more inclined? Is that issue relevant to IceBite at Mars? (Brian Schmidt)
Brian, that's a really interesting question, and one that many scientists are working on. When Phoenix dug a trench in the Martian polar regions, it found two types of subsurface ice. It first encountered "segregated ice," which was a fluffy type of ice that the scoop had no trouble going through - maybe deposited there by a briny (very salty) solution or the remains of buried snow. Interestingly, we have found some examples of buried snow here in Antarctica, which we are studying as a possible analogue. As Phoenix continued to dig, it reached a much harder icy ground. This is probably like the ice-cemented ground that was expected for the site, and seen all over Antarctica and the Arctic. However, from the onboard instruments, there was no way to tell what the mix of soil and ice was. Given these observations, it's hard to tell exactly how the ice in the ground was deposited. For ice-cemented ground (i.e., soil filled with ice), the water can be deposited there just by water vapour from the atmosphere freezing out into the cold ground, or by water from the surface running down. If the icy ground was more pure ice, then it is probably a buried glacier, though there are no surface features to suggest that Phoenix landed on a buried glacier. For a glacier to form, there must have been a lot of precipitation, and likely at least some rain, somewhere. What does that mean for IceBite? IceBite on Mars would have quite a few instruments to look at the composition of the material that it is drilling into. For the drill that we are testing this year at University Valley, we will be looking at the torque (the force required to keep the drill rotating) versus how quickly it is drilling down. We will also be looking at the temperature of the material that we're drilling into. These measurements should all tell us something about what material we are drilling into, or at least when the material type changes. In future tests we'll add additional instruments.   From the chilly South, Margarita, Alfonso, and Wayne
I'm a Junior in High School. I am really interested in pursuing a career in astrobiology. I would like to also do research in Antarctica. I just want to know what are some things I can start doing now in high school, and what are some colleges and college majors I need to be looking at. (Emily Beneda)
Emily, Antarctica can't wait for you to come study it! I would say the most important thing to do is study something you like - if you love what you're doing you will always excel at it! And having to put that extra effort into it will be fun! A great aspect of astrobiology is that it really combines many disciplines! You can do biology, of course, but also chemistry, physics, math. For example, a lot of my contributions to astrobiological studies are looking at the climatic conditions - temperature, water availability, UV amounts, etc. - so that we can characterize the environment in which the organisms are living (or not making it). In our case this is especially important, as we want to know under what conditions life could have survived on Mars. Regardless of what field you're studying, I think it's always good to know math - math is so useful in everything, and will always help you in whatever project you're working on. The third important part, is talking to people in the field that you're interested in. Don't wait to see an advertisement for an intern position - if you're interested in the work that someone is doing, email or call them to ask if you can work for them for the summer, or if they can suggest someone that you can work with! Summer internships are a great way to learn, to help with real science projects, and you just might get taken to some really cool field locations :) Margarita.
Great project! Seems to me that in the event of the bit melting ice and it refreezing, the drill could free itself by simply reversing and using the percussion. The vibration coupled with reversing it should break the grip of the ice and unscrew it. Does that work or is the grip of the ice too strong? (Art Harman)
Art, hello from icy Antarctica! The ground that we are drilling into is very very cold: about -20C (-4F). When the drill melts its surroundings, and stops for even a second, the ice refreezes around it very quickly. Once it has a hold on the drill, it won't move. The difficulty is that the drill has a lot of surface area, and when the melted water freezes, it grabs hold of all of that surface area. Trying to turn the drill would have to break a lot of bonds, which requires a lot more force than we have. Also, at -20C, the ice is quite strong - the colder it is, the stronger the ice is. And mix that with a lot of dirt - the ice cemented ground literally is as hard as cement! Because of all these reasons, we brought various corers, which would cut around the drill in case the drill does get stuck. Margarita
Have we found frozen H2O on Mars? Where? (Walter Krause)
Walter, We have found frozen water on Mars at a couple of sites. The most apparent ones are in the polar caps - both polar caps on Mars have water ice. There is also a layer of frozen CO2 that forms on the polar caps, especially from the atmosphere condensing out in the winter. For a long time we have also thought that there must be ice in the ground as well - ice that fills the space between rock grains in the regolith. Some strong evidence of that came from the Neutron Spectrometer on the Mars Odyssey orbiter. The Neutron Spectrometer collects data which tells us where hydrogen is found. Since water has hydrogen in it, seeing a strong signature is a good indication that there is ice present at that location. But certainly not proof, since some rocks and minerals also contain hydrogen. The best proof we have so far is from the Mars Phoenix lander, which landed in the Mars North Polar region and dug into the ground. It hit some hard, white material, which disappeared - that is, evaporated - with time. The Phoenix landing site was also a place that the Neutron Spectrometer, as well as theoretical models, suggested there would be a lot of ground ice. Margarita
What is the power source of the drill? I could not see a battery that could be built to perform this difficult task in those conditions. (Jim Corl)
Jim, Ironically, as I am sitting here and typing, I use more power than the drill does! The drill actually uses less than 100 W power to drill! The designers have maximized the drilling technique to make the drill very power efficient, particularly because we couldn't send a large battery to Mars. By using both rotation and percussion, the drill breaks up the material first and then drills into it. Using little power is also necessary so that the surroundings are not heated up significantly! Significantly heating up the drill hole is problematic because this can cause melting in the ice-cemented ground and resulting freezing of the drill in the ground. Margarita
Dear Dr. Jackson, the TA for your ce 3309 class would like to know why you didn't take any of the graduate students with you. LOL. (Raquel Cantu)
Raquel, You're going to have to take that up with Dr. Jackson when he gets back, but it does bring up an interesting point! All US activities in Antarctica, and most activities, are done in accordance with the Antarctica Treaty. This treaty is meant to protect this unique continent. In addition, the Dry Valleys, where we're going, are further protected by as a special site. This means that human impact there is really minimized. This includes bringing out everything that we bring in; and yes, that includes excrements. If we dig a hole to collect a sample, we have to fill it back up to try to reconstruct the environment as much as possible so the disturbance is not apparent. And also the person-days are limited (number of people times number of days). Generally it's difficult to get permission to have a team of more than 6 people. Until you get a chance to talk to Dr Jackson - please enjoy the warmth for us! Margarita
Can you tell more about your project to a first grader learning about the planets and your project? Cardo School - Homeschool ( basics at the 1st grade level) She is facinated with Mars as we look at the planets.
Alida, Hello from sunny and freezing Antarctica! It sure is cold here - just as it is on Mars. On Mars it's even colder, but still the temperature where we do our work and in the summer on Mars are pretty close. A lot of our work looks at the ice. One way to look at ice is as a history book for climate. By studying the atoms that make up the ice, we can tell what the temperature was when the snow fell, or when the ice froze. We can tell whether there is more ice getting frozen, or if the ice is going away. Think of your freezer - try leaving ice cubes in there for a while and they'll just go away! This is because it's so dry in the freezer that the ice is subliming away - that is going from ice to gas! Another way to look at ice is what it does to life. In many cases life just goes to sleep when it's too cold - like bears hibernating through the winter. There are no bears or any other animals or plants at all in the Antarctic Dry Valleys - where we do our work. But we are looking at what really little organisms do. Some of them can't survive, some of them find little houses in the rocks where it gets warmer and that's how they survive (these are endoliths), and some of them just learn how to live at freezing temperatures. And how does this relate to Mars? Since the Antarctic Dry Valleys are so similar to Mars, by understanding how ice and life behave here, we can also try to understand what happened on Mars. Since we haven't sent humans to Mars yet, we are also testing instruments that can try to do our work on Mars. This year we tested a drill that made a hole in the ground down to about 8ft (2.6m). We also collected pieces of the dirt and ice all the way down. One day this instrument will fly to Mars, and will let us read Mars' history book on climate by drilling into the Martian poles. And we'll be able to search for any sleeping, or very hardy, little organisms in the Martian subsurface. Margarita
if you guys did find life on mars that wasn't related to dna what would happen after or what would yu guys do after. (Jovan Perez)
If we find evidence for a second genesis of life we will certainly learn from the comparative study of the biochemistry, organismal biology, and ecology of the alien life. Even if an alternative life is based on carbon and water it may have a different biochemical system. Having a second example of biochemistry would allow us to compare and contrast two biochemical systems both capable of sustaining life. From this comparative study we might begin to understand which features of Earth biochemistry are universal and which features are particular to the historical developments on Earth. The discovery of alien life, if alive or revivable, will pose fundamentally new questions in environmental ethics. Ethically and scientifically, we would do well to strive to support any alien life discovered as part of an overall commitment to enhancing the richness and diversity of life in the universe. One implication of the search for alien life on Mars is that we must explore Mars in a way that is biologically reversible. Exploration is biologically reversible if it is possible and practical to remove all life forms carried to Mars by that exploration. Because of the high UV and oxidizing conditions on the surface of Mars, the robotic and human exploration of the planet can be done in a way that is biologically reversible. We must be able to undo ('ctrl Z') our contamination of Mars if we discover a second genesis of life -Chris McKay
What do you plan on doing with the life you found on mars? (Josephine Pereira)
Josephine, No life has been found on Mars so far, and the conditions on Mars today are probably too harsh for any kind of life to survive. But there is a chance that some small organisms lived on the planet very early in its history - over 4 billion years ago. If this life did exist, some of the organisms may have gotten frozen into the polar regions. This is an important reason why we are interested in studying the polar regions on Mars, and Earth: to learn about the climate, chemistry, and whether life can survive there. -Margarita Marinova
Have scientists in the astrobiology field developed a taxonomic system for naming organisms found on other planets? For example, would the Latin name include some kind of designation indicating its extra-Earth origin, such as a prefix? And would a list of prefixes or codes develop to indicate on which site the species was found? I realize that that's a multi-part question. Thanks for tackling it.
Ruth, As far as I know, there is no taxonomic system yet for extraterrestrial organisms. I think everyone is waiting to first see whether we find any. But as you mention, many names for Earth organisms show either the location where the organism is found or what other organisms it is related to. Of course if the search for intelligent lifeforms succeeds before us finding microorganisms, we would just ask them what they are called! Margarita
 
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