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UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER HOSTS 'WATER ON MARS' SYMPOSIUM.

Last Updated on Saturday, 08 May 2010 14:24
Published on Tuesday, 22 February 2005 00:00

Planetary scientists and geologists from the U.K., together with several guest speakers from the United States and Europe, will be gathering in Manchester next week to discuss 'Water on Mars'.

This one day symposium, to be held on Monday 17th April, is part of the four day GeoScience 2000 meeting at the University of Manchester, U.K. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. and to finish at 5.30 p.m.

Despite the recent losses of NASA's Mars Climate Observer and Mars Polar Lander spacecraft, exploration of the Red Planet continues to be a priority among space agencies around the world.

Studies of Martian meteorites are allowing scientists their first look at sample material from the planet. Remarkable high resolution images and topographical data from the orbiting Mars Global Surveyor are currently revolutionising our understanding of this most Earthlike of worlds. With many more orbiter, lander and sample return missions planned over the next decade, Mars is likely to remain at the top of the planetary scientists' agenda for a long time to come.

During the one day symposium, discussions will focus on a number of fundamental questions concerning the existence of water on Mars. How much water is there on Mars? How much water did Mars have in the past? Where is the water today? Was the environment ever suitable for the formation of primitive life forms?

At the moment, scientists have relatively little information on which to base their conclusions. Martian meteorites offer some clues about conditions in the past. The Martian polar ice caps certainly contain some water, as well as frozen carbon dioxide. Wispy clouds composed of water ice crystals drift across the Martian sky. Images from spacecraft show ancient, meandering channels and deeply incised valleys which resemble water-cut features on Earth. 'Splash' rings around some impact craters may be indicative of mudflows caused by melted permafrost.

Many of these topics will be discussed during the meeting. The highlights of the symposium include:

WATER ON MARS: Professor Michael Carr (author of 'Water on Mars'), U. S. Geological Survey, California.
New spectral data, altimetry, and high resolution imaging from Mars Global Surveyor are causing us to revise our ideas on the history of water on Mars. Valleys with deeply incised meanders, central channels and few tributaries appear formed by sustained or episodic flow from upstream sources of groundwater. Evidence for massive subsurface flow is common, but evidence for a former Martian ocean is contradictory.

THE FATE OF SALT ON MARS: Dr. Ralph Lorenz, Lunar and Planetary Lab, University of Arizona, Tucson.
Results from the Mars Global Surveyor camera and laser altimeter instruments support the hypothesis that much of the Martian northern plains may have been underwater, and also indicate a gradient in topography from south to north. Surface and ground water would tend to accumulate in the northern ocean, bringing with it soluble minerals like salt. On Earth, salt is recycled, but on Mars, soluble minerals would accumulate, perhaps forming large deposits such as salt domes or even salt glaciers.

STUDIES OF THE ATMOSPHERE OF MARS: Professor Fred Taylor, University of Oxford.
The loss of Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander leaves a large gap in our knowledge of the Martian atmosphere and the volatile inventory of the planet. What are the key questions to be answered and how might they be solved?

BEAGLE 2: THE EXOBIOLOGY LANDER ON ESA'S MARS EXPRESS MISSION: Dr. Mark Sims, Space Research Centre, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester.
The Beagle 2 Lander for ESA's Mars Express Mission will be delivered by parachute and inflatable airbags onto the surface of Mars in 2004. The mission scenario and instrumentation will be detailed and the relevance of the mission to the debate about water on Mars will be described.

THE NASA/CNES MARS SAMPLE RETURN MISSIONS: Dr. Jean-Louis Counil, CNES, France.
NASA and the French space agency CNES have plans to deploy four Netlander stations on the surface of Mars and to retrieve samples of Martian rock and 'soil' for analysis back on Earth. Jean-Louis Counil describes the scientific objectives and how these ambitious plans will be implemented.

THE DS-2 MARS MICROPROBE MISSION - PENETRATORS TO MARS: Dr. Ralph Lorenz, Lunar and Planetary Lab, University of Arizona, Tucson.
Piggybacking on the Mars Polar Lander (MPL) were two identical 4kg penetrators. These Deep Space 2 probes, developed under NASA's New Millennium technology development programme, were to have separated from MPL, entered the Martian atmosphere and impacted the surface at 200 m/s, burying themselves up to a metre deep. Although no data were returned from Mars, DS-2 achieved many important technology developments, and represents a key step in preparing for future penetrator and network science missions.

IS "WHITE ROCK" IN JUVENTAE CHASMA MAGNESIUM CARBONATE, AND DID IT DEVELOP AS A MICROBIALITE AT A GROUNDWATER SEEPAGE SITE? Professor Mike Russell, Scottish Universities Research & Reactor Centre, East Kilbride, Glasgow.
A mysterious "White Rock" on the western slopes of Juventae Chasma seems to resemble karstic (limestone) features on Earth. It may be a magnesium-rich carbonate mound that developed where ground water seeped into an evaporating lake. If photosynthetic organisms evolved on Mars, as seems probable, then they are likely to have created stromatolite-like mounds. Although recent analysis of Mars Global Surveyor data has failed to reveal a carbonate signature on Mars, this could be masked by wind-blown dust trapped in the pitted surface.

WHERE THERE IS WATER THERE IS LIFE: DOES MARS FOLLOW EARTH'S EXAMPLE? Dr. Everett Gibson, Planetary Sciences Branch, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas.
In August 1996, Dr. Gibson was a member of the research team who presented evidence that the ALH84001 meteorite contained signatures of relic Martian life. Additional research has shown that two additional Martian meteorites contain similar evidence. Because we do not know what Martian life looks like or its physical or chemical properties, the only way in which the scientific community can evaluate the evidence of past life on Mars is to use the same criteria used to evaluate the evidence for early life on Earth. Features within ALH84001's carbonate globules and the Nakhla and Shergotty meteorites have been interpreted as containing evidence of past aqueous activity and possible past life on Mars.

IODINE DISTRIBUTION: A POSSIBLE BIOMARKER FOR THE DETECTION OF LIFE ON MARS? Professor Grenville Turner, Dept. of Earth Sciences, Manchester University, Manchester.
Conclusive evidence that organisms once lived elsewhere in the Solar System has yet to be found. Unambiguous physical remains of Martian organisms are unlikely to be found in the small samples scheduled for return over the next decade, so attention must focus on detecting chemical and isotopic signatures produced by biological processes - 'biomarkers'. The concentration of iodine into sedimentary rocks on the Earth is governed to a large extent by biochemical processes. Preliminary work has demonstrated high concentrations of iodine in the carbonate of the Martian meteorite ALH84001.

BACKGROUND NOTES.
Geoscience 2000 will bring together Earth scientists from the UK and overseas to exchange ideas and present current research over three and a half days of oral and poster presentations (17-20 April 2000). The Geoscience 2000 meeting will be hosted by The Geological Society with the Mineralogical Society, The Palaeontological Assocation and the British Geophysical Association.

Issued by: 

Peter Bond, RAS Press Officer (Space Science).
10 Harrier Close, Cranleigh,
Surrey, GU6 7BS,
United Kingdom.
Phone: +44 (0)1483-268672  Fax: +44 (0)1483-274047
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For further information on the Geoscience 2000 Symposium, contact:

The Geoscience 2000 Conference Office,
The Geological Society, Burlington House,
Piccadilly, London W1V 0JU
Tel: +44 (0)171-434-9944. Fax: +44 (0)171-494-0579
http://www.geolsoc.org.uk


For further information about the programme, contact:

Dr Ian Lyon, Senior Lecturer in Isotope Geochemistry,
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Manchester,
Manchester, M13 9PL, UK
Tel: (+44) (0)161-275-3842 (or 3942)  Fax: (+44) (0)161-275-3947
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

More information may also be found on the Web at:
http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/gs2000.htm