When most people look at photos of the martian landscape, they see the kind of dry topography that, while attractive, says nothing more than that Mars resembles many of the desert areas of Earth. But for planetary scientist Adrian Brown, there are clues in them-thar hills – clues to where liquid water might once have puddled and pooled on the Red Planet, and possibly spawned life.
Adrian works with SETI Institute scientist Janice Bishop in analyzing spectroscopic data gathered by the new Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. As example, he’s interested in finding subtle hints that large bodies of water might once have flooded the northern regions of this now-dry world, hints that the Orbiter’s spectroscope could provide. In addition to his search for water, he also hunts for clues to volcanic activity in these same northern realms, because the energy provided by such eruptions could fuel microscopic life.
A native of Australia, Adrian has spent a lot of time walking the rugged outback of the western part of that continent, learning how minerals in dry environments can be the fingerprints of water. That expertise will help him in searching for clues to Mars’ hydraulic past, when not just water, but alien life might have decked the landscape.