spacer
 
Advanced Search
Astrobiology Magazine Facebook  Astrobiology Magazine Twitter
Why doesn't dry permafrost occur anywhere in the northern hemisphere? Isn't there any place in Siberia that's dry and cold enough? (Adam Clough)

Dry permafrost is only known from Antarctica and then only from the high elevations. There is no where in the Arctic that is cold enough and dry enough.  Interestingly the one other place on Earth where there might be dry permafrost is at the equator. On the top of high mountains at the equator. Mountains like Kilimanjaro.

Can you use some of what you learn for a future drilling mission to Europa?

The drill we are working with is focused on ice-cemented ground on Mars, however it might be useful for the surface of Europa as well.

Shouldn't we do hundreds of core samples on the MOON first, with sample return missions, before Mars?

The goal on Mars is to drill into the ice-cemented ground studied by the Phoenix lander. There is nowhere on the Moon where similar ice-cemented ground is found. The ice at the south pole of the Moon revealed by the LCROSS mission is at very different concentrations and conditions than at the Phoenix site.

Three summers - three years? Why do you need three years to learn how to drill for ice in Antarctica?

Our project is more than just drilling technology. We are also conducting a comprehensive science study of the physical and biological properties of ice-cemented ground under dry permafrost. This is the first such systematic study.

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
 
About Us
Contact Us
Links
Sitemap
Podcast Rss Feed
Daily News Story RSS Feed
Latest News Story RSS Feed
Learn more about RSS
Chief Editor & Executive Producer: Helen Matsos
Copyright © 2014, Astrobio.net