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'Wrecking Ball' Could Break The Ice On Mars
New Scientist ^ | 1-26-2006 | Maggie McKee

Posted on 01/26/2006 10:43:05 AM PST by blam

'Wrecking ball' could break the ice on Mars

11:58 26 January 2006
NewScientist.com news service
MAggie McKee

Orbital images show what appear to be glacier-like features in the mid-latitudes of Mars (Image: A Nahm/Brown University)

A plan to drop a quarter-tonne copper ball through Mars's atmosphere and study the ejecta it blasts away from the planet's surface on impact is to be proposed to NASA.

The mission, called THOR, would test models suggesting the planet's tilt – and therefore its climate – swings through extreme changes every 50,000 years.

Robotic landers and rovers have previously visited the Red Planet's equatorial regions, and an upcoming mission called Phoenix is due to touch down near the north pole in 2008. But no probe has visited the planet's mid-latitudes, where gullies and glacier-like features suggest there may be large amounts of pure water ice beneath a layer of dusty soil.

Now, researchers led by Phil Christensen at Arizona State University in Tempe, US, are proposing a mission to search for that ice directly. The idea behind THOR (Tracing Habitability, Organics, and Resources) is to fly an observer spacecraft to Mars and, hours before it reaches the planet, release an "impactor" ball. It could be up to 230 kilograms in mass and would be aimed at a region about 40° north or south of the equator.

The impactor, likely to be a giant copper sphere, would crash to the surface at more than 4 kilometres per second, blasting a crater about 10 metres deep. Meanwhile, the observer spacecraft would record the event from orbit, studying the composition of the ejected soil with spectrometers.

Pure snow

"It's neat because it's a brute force way to gain access to the subsurface of Mars," says David Spencer, a team member at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, US. "The impactor will be very simple and we'll get our first look at material from that depth."

Christensen says that will provide a crucial test for models of Mars's past climate. "The climate models predict that as the orbit of Mars evolves, the tilt of its spin axis changes," he told New Scientist. Over a 50,000-year timescale, the planet can tilt from 10° to 40° – or anywhere in between, he says.

When the planet is tilted most drastically on its side, the planet's poles receive a lot of sunshine. Any water locked in ice there is thought to vaporise and move towards the equator, where it falls as snow. "The climate can change dramatically and deposit as much as 10 or 20 metres of pretty much pure snow in the mid-latitudes," Christensen says.

Reconnaissance mission

THOR, named after the hammer-wielding Norse god of thunder, would prove this snow theory right if it measures mostly water in the plume of ejected material, he says. But if it reveals mostly dirt, that would lead researchers back to the drawing board, he says: "Maybe the idea of climate change, and tilt, and the deposition of snow [is wrong], or maybe not as much ice moves around."

The mission would also be able to detect organic compounds, such as methane, in the ejecta and the atmosphere. The compounds are intriguing because they might signal the presence of life, but THOR would not carry the instruments to prove it unequivocally.

"I view this as a reconnaissance mission to see if these regions are rich in ice," says Christensen. "And if they are, to use that as a rationale to go back to these regions with future rovers and explore them in more detail."

Christensen's team will submit a preliminary proposal for the $450 million mission to NASA in July. If it is selected to fly, it could launch as soon as 2011.


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: ball; break; could; ice; mars; on; wrecking
"Christensen's team will submit a preliminary proposal for the $450 million mission to NASA in July. "

The cheap way to do this is to go to Texas A&M and have them fire a rock at Mars using a rail gun they have.

1 posted on 01/26/2006 10:43:07 AM PST by blam
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To: blam

i see a face


2 posted on 01/26/2006 10:44:21 AM PST by Flavius (Qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum)
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Comment #3 Removed by Moderator

To: blam

Too bad the Stargate system doesn't exist.


4 posted on 01/26/2006 10:46:56 AM PST by lilylangtree
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To: blam

Didn't we already bounce a probe off Mars a few years ago?


5 posted on 01/26/2006 10:47:19 AM PST by Dahoser (Time to condense the nonsense: Terry Tate for Congressional Linebacker.)
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To: Flavius

But won't the Martians be really ticked?


6 posted on 01/26/2006 10:48:39 AM PST by mlc9852
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To: mlc9852

Art Bell (((PING)))?


7 posted on 01/26/2006 10:49:48 AM PST by oxcart (Remember Bush lied.......People DYED... THEIR FINGERS! (M. Steyn))
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To: blam
While the prospect of sending up a 500lb object into space just to run it into something seems extreme, at least NASA has experience running things into Mars. They may need a couple of shots to improve their aim, but I'm sure they can get the planet. Well, 98% sure, they've got a good track record.
8 posted on 01/26/2006 10:50:33 AM PST by faloi
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To: blam
Hope the martians don't take it as an overt attack on their homeland


9 posted on 01/26/2006 10:52:05 AM PST by ElectricStrawberry (27th Infantry Regiment...cut in half during the Clinton years....Nec Aspera Terrent!!!)
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To: blam

Why waste the copper? Drop something unimportant, like Michael Moore.


10 posted on 01/26/2006 10:55:52 AM PST by Tennessee_Bob ("Those who "abjure" violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.")
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To: lilylangtree
Too bad the Stargate system doesn't exist.

So they would have you believe...

=)

11 posted on 01/26/2006 10:56:31 AM PST by SquirrelKing
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To: blam

Nice. But they should also have a "spirit" type lander along that can land afterwards and go check out the new crater up close.


12 posted on 01/26/2006 10:56:49 AM PST by Dreagon
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To: Tennessee_Bob

Why waste the copper? Drop something unimportant, like Michael Moore.



Because we are only trying to make a small crater.


13 posted on 01/26/2006 10:58:04 AM PST by Dreagon
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To: blam

"The cheap way to do this is to go to Texas A&M and have them fire a rock at Mars using a rail gun they have."

I don't believe they have a rail gun capable of velocities that exceed the escape velocity from Earth.


14 posted on 01/26/2006 11:03:23 AM PST by MineralMan (godless atheist)
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To: blam
This is great news.

Finally, the ice will release the oxygen to the Marian atmosphere. It has been far too long that the Vilos Cohaagen has kept the Martian ice frozen under the surface. All thanks to Douglas Quaid/Hauser.

[mattdono stops. friend whispers into his ear]. You mean, we're not talking about the plot for one of the greatest movies ever, Total Recall?

Oh, ok. Um, nevermind. [wink]

15 posted on 01/26/2006 11:06:59 AM PST by mattdono (The New 'Rat math: 0.0000017% = Vast Wiretapping of "Americans" Riiiggghhhhtttt...)
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To: blam
The idea behind THOR (Tracing Habitability, Organics, and Resources)....

They're calling it THOR? Then they have the wrong planet. They need to name it after the god of war, and call it TIW (Tracing Icy Wreckage).

16 posted on 01/26/2006 11:12:46 AM PST by inquest (If you favor any legal status for illegal aliens, then do not claim to be in favor of secure borders)
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To: mattdono

Most great science fiction movies are from books and short stories written by Phillip K. Dick

I'm still waiting for the film treatment of "Counter Clock World"


17 posted on 01/26/2006 11:18:32 AM PST by TC Rider (The United States Constitution 1791. All Rights Reserved.)
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To: blam

http://www.punkinchunkin.com/main.htm

Fire an orange orb at it.


18 posted on 01/26/2006 11:21:27 AM PST by Range Rover (Kerry is STILL a Fraud...Rather is the Court Jester)
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To: TC Rider

Ubik would be good as well. So would The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

But they are a bit obscure and would probably make Dune seem like The Cat in The Hat by comparison.

Phillip Kendall Dick was the greatest science fiction writer ever.

If you haven't read Valis, get it. Very autobiographical.


19 posted on 01/26/2006 11:26:54 AM PST by djf
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To: Certain_Doom
good practice for Rods from God
That's what we should be using, instead of the ball.
20 posted on 01/26/2006 11:36:30 AM PST by samtheman
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To: TC Rider

You are so right.


21 posted on 01/26/2006 11:44:37 AM PST by brivette
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To: brivette
You are so right.

/email
/autoforward
/ex-wife

22 posted on 01/26/2006 11:57:44 AM PST by TC Rider (The United States Constitution 1791. All Rights Reserved.)
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To: Tennessee_Bob

Use something cheap like depleted Uranium


23 posted on 01/26/2006 12:06:32 PM PST by Deguello
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Comment #24 Removed by Moderator

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