NASA has big Mars announcement

Mars true-color globe showing Terra Meridiani.


JOHNSON SPACE CENTER — Could it be that Mars is home to a vast ocean? Is there proof of life on the Red Planet? Or can it be some of the rock formations on Mars are man — or Martian — made?

There’s plenty of speculation as to what big news NASA has for the world this morning when officials are scheduled to announce what Mars mystery has been solved. Details of what’s been solved — or discovered — won’t be known until 10 a.m. today.

But social media has had a field day with its own predictions since NASA teased about its announcement on Friday. 

Clues can be found with who is announced to be part of the announcement at NASA’ headquarters in Washington.

The panel includes Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and Alfred McEwen, the principal investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment at the University of Arizona.

In 2013, the two men were part of a 10-member group that published a paper in Nature Geoscience that noted some formations on Mars pointed to possible surface water flows near the equatorial regions of Mars.

In “Recurring slope lineae in equatorial regions of Mars,” the group reported that images sent back from Mars rovers showed “possible indicators of liquid surface water on Mars include intermittent flow-like features observed on sloping terrains.”

The fact that NASA said Nature Geoscience had embargoed any release of details until 10 a.m. today, also points to a possible water on Mars announcement.

Jim Oberg, a former NASA engineer, author and space expert for NBC news, agrees the discovery of a water source on Mars is the most plausible answer to what mystery has been solved.

He said that the announcement would “probably (confirm) signs of liquid water seepage.”

That is “a big deal since it confirms models that there’s lots more liquid water underground, creating a potentially immense biosphere or a potential one,” Oberg said. “The leakage points are where future life-seeking probes need to go, and dig.”

Such a confirmation would “validate models” that point to an underground biosphere, said Oberg, who lives in Dickinson. He touched on the subject in the foreword of the 2011 book “Space Probes: 50 Years of Exploration from Luna 1 to New Horizons,” by author Philippe Séguéla.

Oberg noted that research has found that living terrestrial organisms can be found in parts of about two dozen other worlds. They are away from light and are under thermal and chemical conditions that take place under the surface. 

Earlier this month, scientists with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, announced that they had found an ocean beneath the icy crust of Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons. 

“Researchers found the magnitude of the moon’s very slight wobble, as it orbits Saturn, can only be accounted for if its outer ice shell is not frozen solid to its interior, meaning a global ocean must be present,” JPL officials wrote in a Sept. 14 announcement.

Today’s announcement could also indicate some form of life form — or evidence of previous life — on Mars. 

Mars has been a hot topic in recent weeks, thanks in large part to the pending release of “The Martian” movie starring Matt Damon.

Two weeks ago, some of the stars of the movie joined NASA officials at the Johnson Space Center to look at the work being done to send manned missions to Mars.

NASA’s Orion project is the cornerstone of the manned missions to the Red Planet. Much of the training and infrastructure work on the program is taking place at and near the Johnson Space Center.

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