Photo: Courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech
LOS ANGELES – In three years, a new explorer will touch Red Planet. Wheeling wheels, machine pipes, that the roaming will be marvelous across the globe, looking for rocks to send back to the Earth – rocks that could prove there once life was on the Mars
This is the first time in history scientists have had a real shot in addressing one of the deepest questions of humanity: Are we alone?
But first they have to decide where to look.
There are three options: the earlier NASA spring has once again visited, a dry river delta feeding into a crater lake, and a network of ancient basins that may have hidden layers of underground water.
In the coming week, after decades of dreaming, years of research and three-day warming up in a workshop in Los Angeles last month, NASA's chief science officer will choose to wait. The chosen website will set the period in which generations of scientists experience the mystery of our existence.
This first time, scheduled to launch in 2020, is the first step of the four-pound-four-pound four-phase sample return process. In order to put bits of Mars into the hands of scientists, soil will be required to restore the samples; search engine to bring them home; and then an ultra-safe storage facility that will keep Earth's life contamination of rocks Mars – and vice versa.
Yet, finding fossils in those samples could illuminate the origin of life here on Earth. It could suggest if someone else is there, waiting to get it.
"I want to know," said Matt Golombek, NASA scientist who is responsible for leading the search for a landing site. "Do not you? I want to know what's there. I want to know how accidental we are."
That disorder for information is what attracted hundreds of people to the recent workshop – an ambitious new, new age 18-year-old soldiers and athlete space inspectors and a 80 year old retirement accountant – to assess which plan was best . For days they were discussing, motivated by curiosity and weak coffee, aware that the outcome of their meeting could influence NASA and shape history, well aware of what they still did not know.
So much about Mars remains a mystery. The very notion of strange life is rarely more than an educational device that is lived by wild hope.
They are hopeful.
– – –
On Earth, microscopic life is undesirable. Biology began here almost 4 billion years ago, when the planet was still bombed by abandoned gaps from the formation of the solar system. Today, small, tenacious organisms splash into the hot springs of the Yellowstone National Park, fly in clouds, freeze in Antarctica, knocking up to a mile and a half below the ground.
If it could happen here, why?
Mars was visited by more than two dozens of satellites and rocks, which showed that this is not the world of desert that we can see today. A laurent volcano and a flooding of lava show that the planet had a vigorous interior once driving a tectonic activity. Empty channels, guides and lakes suggest that surface water laminated fluid – which may result in a thick atmosphere to keep the water from boiling away.
But then hit a disaster. Less than a billion years in its history, most experts say, they fall the molten core. This led to the decline of carbon-belching volcanoes and the loss of Mars's magnetic defensive field. Cosmic radiation and active particles of the sun pull away from the planet's atmosphere, causing any surface water to evaporate. Great fun, ocean; so long, lakes; farewell to damp soils and bubble volcanic vents – all the types of places in which life likes to live.
Mars is now seen as a "failed planet," a scary-reality version of the world in which we live.
"Ground Earth where Earth environments went away," said Bethany Ehlmann, a planetary scientist at Caltech, at the workshop. "So the question is, why? And when?" And most notably, "Was life having the opportunity to go before that?"
Those questions can only be answered by bringing Mars rocks back to Earth, most scientists say. A human at a top tier lab would be able to analyze the samples to us from us, revealing small structures that could see a robot.
It would even find even a few microbial spinal molecules historically. Knowing that biology rises on two adjacent plants suggests that life is common across the universe. The environment in which the Marsian is found – whether it's a hot spring, a river delta or underground refugee – can give an idea of where life on Earth has originated.
And the information that the world could lead and then fail to underline our incredible fortune. The conditions for the continued existence of Earthlings may not always be assured.
"We have to have those samples, and they must be right," said Golombek.
At the back of the classroom, one researcher turned to the next person and sings: "Are you ready for the show?"
– – –
Choosing one for the mission is a field of hot springs similar to Yellowstone examined by the Spinning Spirit between 2004 and 2010. Here, next to the rocky peak of the name Plate, the strange structure is fingers discovered from silica, has now been dissolved, into minerals associated with water and life. But the instrument was not equipped with instruments that could find complex organic compounds, so the mystery of these structures became unresolved.
Seven years later, Steve Ruff, an instrument of spirit instrument, epiphan was unlikely through the folcanoleg magazine: Scientists had discovered another field of geyser in the Andes which included structures just like those on Mars. On site, from the name El Tatio, heated microorganisms produce silica deposits in filaments, mats and helicers.
"This is the place that is most like a Market of any location I've never been," said Ruff.
But re-visiting a site may mean less learning, many scientists are worried. And what if Ruff is wrong about the silica structures?
Just answer Ruff: "What if we're right?"
"If one of the drivers from Mars explore is answering this question, are we only? & We found a place that could go to # 39; address that question and we're turning from it because there is no certainty that we're going to find out, I think it's just – "It's matching, by searching for a term that would not offend any of his colleagues. "Reserve," he said finally. "That's not just a typical NASA."
This site was examined near the equator of Mars in 2004 and 2010 by the Rover Spirit.
– – –
If any version of sending 50,000 miles of miles through space can be called "conservative", landing at Crater Jezero could be. It's very similar to the types of environments where ancient fossils have been revealed on Earth: deltas, where deposits of extensive plateau reservoirs are stored.
"Sedimentary rocks tell us the history of what happened on the site," said Tim Goudge, a geologist at the University of Texas in Austin. "I'm recorded in the layers, and you can read them as a book."
Jezero also includes minerals related to life on Earth, such as carbonate, as well as clay known as known "entomb" organic smectites.
But the site has been spread with broken dunes and the gap – a potential risk of fatal rush.
"They're scared and scared away from me," said Ray Arvidson, a scientist at the University of Washington at St Louis. On Mars mission, there is no restart.
– – –
Ehlmann, Caltech scientist, has spent years looking at maps of the mesas in North East Syrtis. Martian's relaxed environment, which could be home to the unique life of Martian.
"This would be an opportunity to become a geologist there," he said. "I want to look at the rocks, to understand, solve the story they say."
The website appeals to many scientists due to the variety of ancient rocks that they contain. Remains of the ancient meteorite effects, of the "mega breccias", would be some of the oldest rocks that were sampled from any planet in the solar system. Millions of younger years could reveal how Mars came to the world today.
The area also boasts minerals, such as carbonates, which suggest that it has once undergone an underground aquifer – a potential refuge for organisms that try to protect from the severe and severe climate of their planed.
But if subscription life was scarce, even the most sophisticated laboratory on Earth could not be detected. Scientists are more common in search of life in sedimentary rocks such as those in Jezero.
Then, Emily Lakdawalla, geologist and senior editor of the Planning Association, had a question that looked at every site that was being considered.
"What if the samples will not be returned?" he says. "Can we think about that?"
It was sure people considered the possibility. NASA has not funded any of the following three trips required for the return of a sample.
Golombek took the microphone.
"We've decided to control the ground that's out for this talk," he said. "Everything depends if you're optimistic or pessimistic, right?"
For the moment, he urged his colleagues, to be optimistic.
– – –
By the final morning of the workshop, there was no consensus on the best place to land the wrap. Some scientists said that their thoughts had changed with each presentation, their opinions were ping-ponging as they heard compelling evidence from the supporters of each site. Others had become more reinforced in their jobs.
But what if they did not have to choose?
The mission project science team has created an ambitious extended mission focusing on a new landing location on the north east of Syrtis of the "Midway" name, not far from the edge of the Jezero Crater.
It would take hundreds of Martian days – the same as a number of years on Earth – but the trigger could create its way from one site to the other, with the best samples of & # 39; both. Conveyance would transport the skin across steep mountain ranges, full rocky fields and wild wildlands.
"This is an incredible examination," said Ken Williford, deputy project scientist for the mission.
Even by Mars standards, Midway was common with anonymous. Scientists have not been able to carry out detailed analyzes of the rocks that are included, and the proposed 15 miles across what could be achieved by rover lumbering.
There were many ways this could end up poorly, some worried.
"But," project farmer Ken Farley said "there's more than one way to fail."
"Personally," he continued, "I do not want to miss because we have not been ambitious enough to make the sample cache scientifically worthy".
The ballot was held in secret silence; It was barely because the results were predicted on the classroom screens. Columbia Hills had received relatively low grades. But Jezero, North East Syrtis and Midway were throat and throat and throat.
– – –
Ultimately, the decision would come down to Thomas Zurbuchen.
As an NASA link administrator for science, he oversees over 100 trips aimed at understanding the solar system and beyond. But of all those efforts, he says, Mars 2020 is where NASA has the most to lose – and a humanity that is most to win.
"This is the biggest danger," he said about the $ 2 billion mission. "But it's just like everything goes just like we were hoping … … The landing site that I am a decisive officer will make history."
Days before it was scheduled to receive its final briefing on the landing site options, Zurbuchen still had not decided. He had attended part of the landing site workshop, but it was so much that he considered: engineer safety assessments, the potential for subsequent trips, the need to balance astrobiology research with other scientific questions.
And then the vision that filled his mind when his eyes closed to a dream – a consideration that was neither financial nor scientific, but a pure hope. A search that carries Mars samples hurts the Earth. Scientists restore the cache and get their first insight into other planets. The laboratory where the rocks are analyzed, the complex instruments that will look for signs of ancient organisms.
And a science class where her grandchildren sits in the future, reading a booklet that is the place where he chose – where he learned the humanity, for the first time, we have not always been on our your own.