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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Marshall Agnew (03/24/04)

The character of Monday's class was different from any we have had so far. Though we were less focused on mars than we have been in the past, I think I took a great deal away from it. It was good to have David Marchant in class to tell us about something that none of us have any experience with. I think its amazing to find out about how people get science done in the face of problems that seem to make research impossible. If the dry valleys themselves don't tell us all we would like to know about mars, at least we can learn something about doing science in less than ideal conditions.

Of course, people going to mars would be faced with a great deal more trouble than even people going to Antarctica, but lessons Professor Marchant has learned about being productive scientifically no matter what is happening around you seem like they could be universally applied. Also, I think David Marchant's work in Antarctica shows us how human beings could be more productive than machines for doing scientists. To me, there can be no doubt that the work he and his students do in Antarctica every year is far more than the same number of machines could get done. They are able to change their plans and come up with innovative ideas in real time. This is something machines could not do. Though this is not necessarily a great analogue for sending people to mars because of the differences in safety and cost, I think it does tell us beyond a doubt that people can be more useful and productive in a research setting than machines.

As far as using Antarctica as an analogue for mars, I think it is a good idea but it seems fairly limited in its scope. In Antarctica we could learn a lot about small-scale geological phenomenon such as wind-faceting of rocks and soil distribution. However, large-scale phenomenon like volcanoes that are important to our understanding of mars are simply not present in Antarctica. Medium-scale things such as glacial movement and behavior seem to me to be a dangerous analogy to make. I think that we might be able to learn something about mars from the glaciers in the dry valleys, but we have to be very careful not to apply what we learn too literally because very small differences in the compositions of the two planets' atmospheres and gravities and other things could have a profound effect on such things.

I am stunned when I see the pictures of Antarctica compared to the pictures from mars. The two do seem so similar that I cannot believe that the geological processes at work are not very similar. I hope the work with comparing Antarctica to mars yields useful results. Last week we were talking about looking at the processes on mars to find out more about the earth. Even if the dry valleys aren't exactly like mars, they could be a good enough approximation to tell us things we want to know. The spirit of planetary science in general seems to be finding approximations back and forth among the planets in all directions in order to compile useful data. The dry valley project is very much in that spirit.
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