Geo016 - Exploration of Mars

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Geo016 / Exploration of Mars / (M) 3:00-5:20 / Lincoln Field 105 / Prof. James Head

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Andrew Baum (03/10/04)

This week's class was probably the most interesting for me so far. We jumped around to a lot of different topics, so my thoughts may be a little unorganized, but I will keep them in generally the same order to which we discussed them in class.

As I was reading the articles before class, I was intrigued by the many different situations that “life” was able to exist. I was most excited by the smoke geysers in the Pacific Ocean and the methane hydrate worm colony. It does show that life can exist in places that we would have least expected it to exist, and also that there are probably millions of other life forms that we have not/ may never find. Life can live just about anywhere! In the freezing cold of Antarctica to the deepest gulley of the oceans. Bacteria Rule (literally)! But with this in mind, it is certainly a possibility that life could exist on another planet, especially Mars.

The last time I was formally educated on the solar system was in fifth grade. I haven't even so much as looked in a textbook on a topic from outer space and our solar system since then. I think this is part of the reason why this week's class was so exciting for me. Even the small points, like the size variation of the planets were interesting. I knew that Jupiter was big, but I never realized it was THAT big! It looked, from the picture in class, that all of the other planets, with exception to Saturn, could fit inside Jupiter and still have room left. I enjoyed thinking about the idea that because there are some planets that we know of that are similar to earth, there must me others out there. I never knew that scientists discover a new planet sized mass ever month. I thought we just had our nine planets and that was all we ever found. This also makes me wonder why we even decided that Pluto was a planet in the first place, especially if we are finding other masses the same size as it in space. Were scientists just trigger happy to name and discover new planets that they just named it? According to Physics, objects with the largest mass have the most gravitational pull, explaining why everything orbits around the sun. During class, I thought, “what if the earth were the largest mass?” Well, that's easy…everything would revolve around us (some people already think this)! We know so very little about space, out atmosphere, and even about ourselves. I liked the analogies that people had in class about a blade of grass on a football field, a paint chip on the top of the Eiffel Tower, or a hair on a track, to demonstrate how very little we know about ourselves and where we live.

We mentioned in class that earth is the only planet we know of that has the absolute right conditions to support life. We are the perfect distance away from the sun; we have the right pressures in our atmosphere, and the right obliquity. Who is to say that there isn't a “rock” or asteroid out there in space that is the same distance away from the sun, and has similar conditions that we do on earth. If this is a possibility, which I think it is, then that means there could be life forms living on that as well. I think it is so interesting to think that there could be another solar system, galaxy, whatever, that has a colony of people, or other life forms, living in it. There could be an entirely identical earth somewhere else out there, with humans, rhinoceroses, or some other creature running the planet. Wherever this other planet is, if humans aren't there, I bet that they have a much healthier planet than we have! The fact that other planets like Venus are made of almost all carbon dioxide, and earth isn't shows that the presence of humans has significantly destroyed…. and continues to destroy earth's atmosphere.

Our discussion on the moon taught me a lot of new things. I never knew that the moon moderates the earth's obliquity…and I am sort of interested in how exactly it does this. Also, how would a change in the obliquity cause an ice age? My thinking is that it would still be just as far away from the sun, and would be spinning, so there shouldn't be that much of a temperature change. The Earth is so miniscule compared to the sun that it seems to me that the temperature would not change at all. Also, I learned what the snowball effect was. Is that something that has happened in our planet's history, or other planets' histories? What makes us think that this is a possibility for Earth's or any other planet's future?

We moved this discussion into how the moon formed, and this was a bit hard for me to believe. The claim that the moon was formed from a large impact into the Earth's surface seems a little farfetched. I mean, geologists have been searching every inch of this planet, and you figure they would have found something that would even resemble a rock from the moon if this theory were true. I think it is unlikely that it just by chance happened that a large mass (moon) split off from Earth and began to orbit as its moon. Then again, I don't know enough details about this, so I suppose anything is possible. Is there any evidence that this theory is true? If so, what is the evidence? I also was wondering why there aren't more huge impacts on earth from “space junk.” I mean, there should still be some huge asteroids out there that are coming our way, shouldn't there be? I realize that the life of the planets began a LONG time ago, but that doesn't mean that all of the collisions that were going to happen, already did, and there won't be any more. Just a thought.

I asked what happens to the Rovers after the missions are done, and the response was that they are just left there. I think it is ironic that we are so worried about how to energize the machine so that it won't hurt the environment, but when it is done, we are just leaving this hunk of machinery on the planet. Is that not pollution? That is a prime example of how humans begin destroying a planet. We have done it on Earth, and we are on our way of doing it to Mars. It is just a matter of time. Wouldn't it be funny if we never send men to Mars, and billions of years from now, some life form goes up to Mars and discovers all of the “stuff” we have sent up. What would they think? Would they believe that we lived up there or that we had some connection with a life form on Mars? I thought it was amusing to think about.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Bliny dinner on Monday night. Unfortunately I had to leave early to go to a rehearsal, and I apologize, although it is mostly a loss for me. The food was excellent, though (maybe I can learn to make it)! I did get my traverses map signed though, so at least I will have a keepsake from this experience. Thanks to everyone who helped out with the dinner, especially Professor head for having us at your house, the skilled Russian chefs for making a great meal, and Mrs. Head for taking me back to campus early. I think it was a great night for everyone.

One more quick note, the music is coming along nicely and I will most likely have it done by our next class session (not the CAVE session). See everyone in the weeks to come.


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