Wednesday, June 13, 2007

More News You Can't Use From Mars.

Today brings another rash of stories about the discovery of evidence that Mars was once wet, really wet, and maybe had life, too. (Here, here.) Millions of years ago, no wait, that's two billion years ago, Mars had an ocean.

The most interesting part of today's discovery, and the bit that really matters, doesn't come until the seventh paragraph of this story on (Here.)
"Somewhere along the way to toppling over 50 degrees to the north, Mars probably lost some of its water, leaving the Deuteronilus Ocean's shoreline exposed. 'The volume of water was too large to simply evaporate into space, so we think there is [sic] still some subterranean [sic]* reservoirs on Mars,' [Taylor] Perron said."
Okay, I'm being harsh. That part about Mars toppling 50 degrees is kind of interesting, too. Nevertheless, that happened a heck of a long time ago.

This story and all the other Mars stories that regularly get reported are part of what's wrong with the mainstream view of space. Space travel or exploration, however you want to describe it, is viewed as being all about science. And so what exciting news do we learn? Mars had water billions of years ago, it toppled, we don't know why, but it probably has something to do with something going on inside the planet way back then. And some scientists are really excited about it. My own personal guess is the Big Topple might have had something to do with the formation of that giant impact crater, Hellas Basin. But what do I know? I'm not a scientist.

To be frank, I'm not nearly as interested in the ancient history of Mars as I am in whether the Mars of today offers any promise of being able to support humans by the time we finally get our slowpoke butts over there. Today's stories about Mars suggest it does.

Yet here we've got a story about Mars and the part where the scientist says there's probably the remnant of an ocean under the ground on Mars just gets swept by as if it means nothing. But if humans ever want to visit Mars and stay there for long periods of time, or even, here's a thought, make the planet another home for humanity, the fact that an ocean of water may still exist deep below the surface of our dry and dusty neighbor is the most important piece of Mars news we learned today. It's a shame the discovery doesn't get reported that way.


* Subterranean?

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In other words: "They didn't spin the story to the small audience of those actively interested in manned Mars missions, rather than to the much larger audience of those kinda interested in planetary science."

Shocking. (yawn)
Subareation [Pronounced "sub-air-ee-a-shun"]? Subarian? Well, dirt is dirt, maybe we should just say "sub-dirt". :-)

Anyway, my reading is that the possibility of water under Mars' surface is becoming more and more likely; but coming the week after the "puddles on Mars" silliness, it's natural for a reporter to be more cautious than usual. But I agree that burying the lede way down in the story is sad. Any size ocean remaining makes a human future on Mars much more likely.

I highly doubt a manned Mars mission has a lower audience than planetary science, too.
It's an empirical question, I suppose, which audience would be bigger, but my guess is the same as Stu's. I'm sure of one thing about Yawn's point. The "audience of those actively interested in manned Mars mission" is to the "audience of those kinda interested in planetary science" as apples are to oranges, or, now that the astronomers have spoken, as Pluto is to Earth.
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