Exploring Mars for evidence of habitable environments and life

Recent Mars missions have discovered fascinating landscapes as well as chemicals and minerals formed by the action of liquid water. Mars could have been habitable sometime in the past, and liquid water might persist in some subsurface environments today. Dr. Dave Des Marais, Chair of the Mars Exploration Program Advisory Group (MEPAG), will discuss recent discoveries that are helping to identify the most promising places to search for evidence of life. 

ChemCam - the laser on the next Mars Lande

Dr. Jen Blank is a member of the science team for ChemCam, a remote imager and Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) remote analysis instrument. ChemCam will be able to determine elemental abundance of a rock up to 7 meters away by zapping it with a laser and detecting excited elemental lines. ChemCam is one of the instrument packages on the Mars Science Laboratory rover that will be launched to Mars next year. Landing site? Still TBD. Come along to hear about NASA's coolest new device for deciphering the geological story of The Red Planet.

What clays can tell us about past climate at Mawrth Vallis, Mars

Mawrth Vallis has one of the largest exposures of phyllosilicates on Mars. Originally observed by OMEGA, CRISM has refined the detections and allowed positive identification of several phyllosilicate minerals including nontronite, montmorillonite, and kaolinite, as well as hydrated silica, based on their distinct spectral characteristics. The textures and morphologies of these units have been characterized using HiRISE imagery. Nancy McKeown will discuss the identification and mapping of these phyllosilicates and their implications for past climate at Mawrth Vallis.

The Habitability of the Phoenix Landing Site

Dr. Carol Stoker was a member of the Mars Phoenix Lander team that landed a robot in the polar regions of Mars. Dr. Stoker will present an analysis of results from the Mars Phoenix mission to the North Polar region of Mars that shows that conditions are probably habitable for life in modern times at this location. 

Where is Mars' Ice? Constraints from impact craters and lobate debris aprons on a mid-latitude reservoir

 Ancient features such as outflow channels and phyllosilicate mineral outcrops, suggest a large amount of water was once present on the Martian surface. The volume of water required to form these features exceeds the current inventory of water frozen at the Martian poles. Observations of surface craters and large flow features known as lobate debris aprons provide insight into the amount of water ice stored in mid-latitudes.


Mars: The water story and prospects for life

Recent missions to Mars have provided new evidence that early Mars was at least episodically earth-like with rivers, lakes and possibly oceans, and high rates of aqueous weathering and erosion. Life appears to have arisen early on Earth. Did some form of life start on Mars when conditions on the two planets were similar? Conditions on Mars subsequently changed to become much less hospitable but life, if started, may have maintained a tenuous foothold in isolated niches.

Atmospheric Escape and Aurora on Mars

Measurements of magnetic fields and charged particles near Mars made over the past 4 decades teach us about its plasma environment, upper atmosphere, near-surface environment, subsurface, and deep interior. The upper atmosphere and plasma environment of Mars are of interest because they are the sites of energy exchange between the planet and its surroundings, dominated by the Sun and solar wind. It is difficult to understand the state and evolution of the Martian system without understanding this important upper boundary.

The Surface of Mars: Mineralogy as an Indicator of Water and Environmental Conditions

The surface mineralogy of Mars provides clues to its geologic history, including aqueous processes. Phyllosilicates and sulfates are key indicators of water on Mars and appear to have occurred in the Noachian and Hesperian, respectively. Dr. Bishop will discuss what we know about Martian mineralogy from orbital and landed missions, meteorites, and terrestrial analog studies.

Death of the Martian Dynamo

Unlike Earth, Mars has no global dynamo-driven magnetic field. However, strongly magnetized crust tells us that such a field existed in the past. The reasons for, and timing and manner of, its demise is an important question in Mars science, with ramifications for the evolution of the atmosphere and the stability of liquid water on the Martian surface. Dr.

Geological record of recent climate change on Mars

Climate on Mars changes at a wide range of time scales; these changes leave observable traces in the geological record of the planet. Recent decade of intensive orbital imaging of Mars has revealed a fascinating set of geologically young features indicating different climate conditions: recent gullies, surprisingly dynamic high-latitude landscapes, a wealth of new information about the polar layered deposits, traces of huge extinct tropical mountain glaciers, impressive remnants of wide-spread mid-latitude glaciation, etc.


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