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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Frank Crespo (03/10/04)

From my readings, the most interesting fact which I stumbled upon was the idea that comets from space may have been major contributors to the formation of life on Earth. Similarly enough I was also curious about the fact that debris containing bacteria from Earth that landed on Mars could thrive there depending on the habitat it landed in. Of courses these two concepts are highly hypothetical. However, in 1984 ALH 84001, an actual meteorite found in Antarctica, was confirmed to be a derivative of Mars. Our reading by Gerald A Soffen indicates that this was confirmed by isotopic assay. I am still a bit bewildered though how scientists could possibly know that this rock was 4 billion years old, as well as that it came from Mars. This is something I would like more information on.

Before taking this course I was almost certain that life did not exist on Mars. Recent findings of carbonate molecules in ALH 84001 prove otherwise. In fact, this increases the likelihood of life existing elsewhere in the universe. An interesting point which is in need of further discussion, is the fact that Microbiologists argue that the size of these "nanofossils" is too small to harbor genetic essentials. If this is true, then where do we define the limit of life in relation to size? Where's the cutoff point? I personally think classifying something as too small to contain genetic essentials is absurd; especially with concepts of atoms prevalent in our society.

From this discussion I also gained some insight about the differences between the Moon, Mars, and Earth. Before class I asked my friends to describe the Moon and Mars. Surprisingly enough most of them gave two different classifications (e.g., Mars: polar caps, red planet; Moon: no sound, craters) From these interviews there is a clear sign of the times. If the same question were asked to the general public in the 1960's, the Moon and Mars would probably be considered synonymous. Why? Well, Mariners 4, 6, and 7 took close pictures of Mars and retrieved images that were crater-like and life-less just like the Moon. In today's exploration of Mars we have reached a point where we can land rovers at sights which differ greatly from the Moon's geology. It's amazing how far we have come.

Other more scientific distinctions between Mars and the Moon, which I learned in class, are that Martian craters are more degraded, branching valleys are common throughout the highlands, and smooth areas lie between Martian highland craters. I was a bit sketchy, as I think most of the class was, that the Moon was created by in impact with Earth. It seems highly unlikely that the Earth would keep its orbit after such a collision. As Professor Head mentioned, if we could pinpoint where this collision occurred then perhaps this hypothesis could be validated.

Current topics of debate include the differences and similarities between Mars and Earth; through these comparisons the concept of life may be further defined. Since I was a kid the two features which I thought distinguished Mars from Earth were life and its distance from the sun. Though I was partly right, there are so many other variables. For one, Mars is much smaller than Earth, which may account for the reason why it is cooled faster. Moreover, Mars also lacks plate tectonics. The lack of plate tectonics may explain the massive size of volcanoes (Note: I was so impressed by the size of Olympus Mons). Mars is also colder than Earth. One explanation for this is that Mars is farther from the sun; a second explanation is that Mars' atmosphere is too thin to provide green house warming.

With Nasa's recent reporting that sulfate salts where found on Mars, I was anxious to learn about waters history on red planet. Currently scientists claim that ice is frozen at the poles and that at latitudes higher than 30 degrees we should find ground ice just below the surface. This notion excites me because there may be entomophilies living in these areas. Future Mars missions should send robotic spacecrafts to these areas. As for water in Mars' past, preservation of impact craters show that fluvial action was brief but did occur.

Today's seminar was very informative. In the future, that is if life is found on Mars, I would like to study the chirality of molecules to see if amino acids on Earth have the same L configuration on Mars. This will be key in determining the origin of life.

Finally, "Bliny Night" was a success. I was honored to be gathered around these amazing scientists in such an intimate setting. This opportunity also exposed me to the social side of science. The camaraderie which I witnessed is something that should be extended into the laboratory.

In a conversation with Krushev, he told me how he thought President Bush was "stupid" and that America is only ahead because the dollar has been adopted as a major form of currency. He also touched upon the fact that Moscow is now much different form the Soviet. He told me that, "there is less competition now, so Russia must share its technology with the rest of Europe" in order to successfully compete with America.

Sasha and I spoke about more personal matters, such as what it is like to be a scientist and how his life has turned out. He said, "In order to be a successful scientist you must work alone." I then probed the question "Are you often removed from other people?" and he answered, "No. As a geologist you get to work with many people." Sasha is very satisfied with his life as a scientist. I was amused by the fact that he was initially going to be a ship builder rather than a geologist.


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