Friday, June 27, 2008

Future Asparagus Garden on Lopsided Mars?

After a one way ride jetting one hundred seventy million miles, the very expensive pre-garden tester, the Phoenix Lander, scooped up a few tablespoons of frozen earth on Mars, nuked it in TEGA ovens and behold, water sublimation. A few more tests made scientists and researchers reach for their almanacs and see possibilities of virgin Martian soil supporting skinny asparagus stalks, turnips and snapping green beans. There is salt, alkaline on Mars just like the stuff out behind the house. Chemically necessary nutrients and mineral traces are in the soil resembling the dirt found in the Antarctic region. Exorbitant food prices on Earth these days make planting opportunities a futuristic dream state desired now. Martian asparagus can you imagine the sticker in the market? (AP Photo/NASA/JPL/CalTECH/University of Arizona)

The project's lead chemist, Samuel Kounaves, from the University of Arizona says he is flabbergasted by what has come back.

"We basically have found what appears to be the requirements, the nutrients to support life, whether past present or future," he said.

"The sort of soil you have there is the type of soil you'd probably have in your backyard, you know, alkaline.

"You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well - strawberries probably not really well."

The quest continues to find carbon to make it really in the HZ or Habitable Zone. For this solar system, Mars orbits just outside it by about a half of an AU or astronomical unit. Finding elements of planetary habitability spurs more missions to explore Mars in a multitude of international projects. The Mars Science Laboratory is the granddaughter/son of the rovers with more agility. Russia and China have a joint mission with a return with soil and rocks component in Phobos-Grunt from the Martian moon. in 2013, the European Space Agency will launch sophisticated ExoMars rovers of their own with a bigger drill. With each find of all of the equipment and technology launched to Mars, the space race heats up to get to Mars and stake claims. Interesting Martian land rush for a planet that has taken some megaton blows, has radiation because of a thin atmosphere and needs to drill down to get to the buried treasures that may contain microbes or other life.

Mars suffered a direct T-bone impact of a rock or asteroid the size of the phenomenon formerly known as planet Pluto colliding with Mars at about 21,000 mph. It left Mars lopsided and flat near its north polar region with a scar crater or flat plain of 5300 by 6600 miles or half of Africa if it happened on Earth. Further south, Mars' topography is full of canyons, dead volcanoes and valleys. 365 million years ago when earth had its own cataclysmic event, dinosaurs and the prevailing ecosystems died. Both events happened eons ago near the same time with Mars taking the bigger hit.

Writing in the journal Nature, three groups of scientists describe how four billion years ago, soon after the formation of the solar system, an asteroid between a half and two thirds the size of the moon struck the planet at an angle of 30 to 60 degrees.

The impact unleashed an explosion equivalent to 100bn gigatonnes of TNT and created a scar 10,600km long and 8,500km across, the largest impact crater known anywhere in the solar system. The crater, a giant basin that covers 42% of the planet's surface, is roughly the size of Europe, Asia and Australia combined.

Everyday Mars becomes more interesting. In the last week we have learned of water, that the soil can sustain a hearty green veggie garden, peaks and valleys on one side with flat plains the result of an asteroid face plant at the same time as Earth.

No doubt, there is an anticipatory scientific community of thousands that would do anything to catch the first manned one way rocket to explore Mars. Scientist, William K. Hartmann puts it in perspective in his book, A Traveler's Guide To Mars.

No comments: