baudrunner's space: Spelunking on Mars
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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Spelunking on Mars

NASA'a Mars Odyssey spacecraft is the only Mars probe able to detect anomalous features on the red planet using thermal imaging techniques. It has been in orbit around Mars since 2001.

Temperature differences occurring during different times of day can be gauged by the instruments aboard the craft. There is in general a significant and immediate drop in surface temperature just before sunset. Close examination of thermal images indicate that there are localised areas best described as holes on the surface of the planet in the order of a few hundred meters in diameter that see only a fractional drop in temperature and which exhibit circular patterns of warmth at night in contrast with the surrounding surface. They also exhibit cooler temperatures during the day than the surrounding surface. The information suggests that they are deep holes in the ground. Seven of these openings have been found at high altitudes on a volcano called Arsia Mons near Mars' tallest mountain. It is thought that these are actual skylights into underground caverns deep in the mountain.

Because of their location at high altitude it would be impractical to explore these cave entrances using probes or human explorers but their presence on the volcano suggests that there may be more of these strange features at lower elevations and to that end a search has begun to locate them.

That these holes are an important discovery is an understatement. The subsurface of Mars contains linear rifts, or fault lines, as evidenced by what appear to be depressions best described as sink holes that follow distinctly linear patterns and these indicate large spaces in the composition of the crust. There could be any number of geological processes that might have created those underground caverns.

I have posted a few articles that support the idea of the existence of oil in Mars. That is not so far-fetched. All the oil in Earth is found at depths which are devoid of oxygen. One theory of the origins of oil propose that an anaerobic microbial fungal mold digests the iron in the substrata of the earth's crust producing oil as a waste product. The empty caverns of oil wells in Texas have been found to be collecting oil which is running down the cavern walls and gathering in pools at the bottom. Therefore oil production is an on-going process on this planet. The Russian space station Mir was abandoned because of the presence of a fungus that invaded the station's interior and replicated beyond control. The results of a space shuttle project led by researchers from Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute indicate that bacteria encouraged to grow in space were almost three times as likely to cause disease as their Earth-bound counterpart. This lends support to the notion that the vacuum of space does not present a barrier to microbial migration if they are sheltered in comet or asteroid. I believe that the production of oil in the Earth precedes the emergence of oxygen in the atmosphere which led to the evolution of life on the surface and that the presence of those anaerobic bacteria that produces oil originated from space. Mars therefore has an equal chance of harboring great oil pools in its crust. And this would naturally lead to the creation of large caverns where the iron content has been consumed. Mars is an iron rich planet.

We should add spelunking to the exploration duties of future Mars colonists.

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