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AstroFerret on Earth drawing Martian Design Challenge Webchat
November 20, 2003

Chat with NASA scientists to ask questions about human habitability on Mars, and possibly life-forms that might survive in the Martian environment.
More information on this event is available
Read bios of experts Geoff Briggs and Jon Rask
(.pdf format)

Thurs Nov 20

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 31 - 08:35:04 ]
Join us here on November 20, 2003 to chat about information that will help you refine your Martian designs. Our experts would be happy to answer your questions. In the meantime, make sure to check with your fellow designers in the forum at: http://archimedes.arc.nasa.gov/questchat/chatroom8/main/chat.cgi

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 40 - 08:46:22 ]
During the last chat we had more than 400 questions. We try to choose carefully and ask well-thought-out questions of general interest. Thanks for your patience as we try to answer as many as possible.

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 42 - 08:47:57 ]
RE: When considering width alone, which of the following volcanix forms on Mars would have the greatest width? a. shield b.cinder c.strato/composite d.patera
If you want to try to stump your fellow students, put this one in the forum at: http://archimedes.arc.nasa.gov/questchat/chatroom8/mod/chat.cgi

[ Jon_Rask/NASA_Ames - 45 - 08:26:51 ]
Hello Everyone.

[ GeoffreyBriggsatNASAARC - 46 - 08:26:55 ]
RE: [Linda/NASAQuest] We will be starting the chat in about 1/2 hour. Please begin to enter your questions early so that we may have a good chance of posting them during the chat. Thanks!
I am on line now

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 47 - 08:28:27 ]
RE: [Jon_Rask/NASA_Ames] Hello Everyone.
Good Morning Jon, Thank you for answering so many of the questions that were submitted last chat - I am working on getting those online for our students. We are seeing a slow trickling of new questions today. Hopefully they'll speed up soon.

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 48 - 08:29:02 ]
RE: [GeoffreyBriggsatNASAARC] I am on line now
Good morning Geoff, I'll start putting questions up now.

[ Jon_Rask/NASA_Ames - 52 - 08:32:29 ]
RE: Shane, VISSA, CA Would Mars' surface have enough nutrients to support plant life?
There should be enough to support plant life, however, you will need to consider the damaging effects of radiation, extremely cold temps, and very dry conditions.

[ Jon_Rask/NASA_Ames - 55 - 08:34:23 ]
RE: Gregory - VISSA, CA Can plants survive on Mars?
If your plant was shielded somehow from radiation, and could somehow resist dessication (drying out), and took advantage of some sort of extensive microbial ecosystem to support it (assuming your plant was more than microscopic in size)

[ Jon_Rask/NASA_Ames - 58 - 08:37:35 ]
RE: waht do you do if you are a life support sciencetist.
I help to develop experiments that test hardware we will use to grow organisms on the space station. I also help to develop the experiments that will go into an incubator and a cell culture unit. The project I work with is the Space Station Biological Research Project.

We want to make sure the hardware works before we launch, so we have to test, test, test! Check, and re-check.

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 59 - 08:37:54 ]
PLEASE identify yourself - I see folks coming online, but so far only Mrs. Laurino's class has told us they're here!

[ Jon_Rask/NASA_Ames - 61 - 08:38:55 ]
RE: Jayme/Mrs. Anderson's 7th and 8th: Does Mars have seasons?
Yes it does. Mars has a tilt of about 25 degrees which is quite similar to the tilt of Earth. But, since Mars is further out in the solar system, it travels more slowly around the Sun, which makes its seasons of "winter spring summer and fall" much longer.

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 64 - 08:42:15 ]
Please don't repeat your questions - I see them in the moderation room and put them in the chat room as we have time. Thanks

[ GeoffreyBriggsatNASAARC - 65 - 08:42:20 ]
RE: Melissa/ Venture Academy, CA Can you tell us what affects the Martian environment might have on humans if we were to live there for several generations?
I'm not at all an expert in this area, Melissa, but the evolution of living things takes place when random mutations occur that cause the organism to become better adjusted to a new environment and thus to have a reproductive advantage. So, even though the lower gravity of the martian environment might well cause an astronaut's legs to grow weaker it would not affect reproductive matters -- the DNA passed on from one generation to the next would not change. However, if a terrestrial bacterium were released into the martian environment and if it were not killed, then mutations would lead to reproductibve advantages and so you would expect the baterium to change to adjust to the higher radiation and the lack of ready access to liquid water at the surface.
[ Jon_Rask/NASA_Ames - 69 - 08:45:57 ]
Additionally, the human body would probably also lose bone mass, so the bones would become brittle. If the effects of Mars are similar to microgravity, then our immune system may also be supressed while living on Mars. And, our blood chemistry (the hematocrit) would change. In general, astronauts show symptoms in spaceflight that are similar to rapid aging.

[ GeoffreyBriggsatNASAARC - 67 - 08:45:25 ]
RE: Is there any radiation or cosmic rays on Mars? Elizabeth/CA
Elizabetth, Yes, the surface of Mars has much more ultra violet radiation from the Sun because of the lack of an ozone layer like the one we have on Earth. Cosmic radiation (from outside the Solar System and from the Sun) finds its way to the surface of Mars much more easily than on earth because the martian atmosphere is very thin.

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 71 - 08:51:43 ]
RE: has there been any new evidence that supports the idea of an existing atmosphere on Mars? We put our name and location in the location box but ended up being "unknown" so MsMookinisclass is here
Great to see you! Yes, the Name box is broken, so your identifier needs to be in the message box. Thanks

[ Jon_Rask/NASA_Ames - 72 - 08:51:49 ]
RE: Could a Martian live underground? What could he eat to survive? Would it be able to get it's energy from breaking down Martian soil? What else could it eat?
That is certainly a possibility, and is probably the most likely place biology would be located if at all. Since the surface is likely sterilized by intensive raditation (and is incredibly dry and cold), biology in a microbial form - if it were ever on Mars - may have retreated to the subsurface. Radioactive materials that give off energy can split water molecules and help to produce intermediary compounds, creating a chemical disequilibrium (energy source) that could be used by microbes. We see such an example in a gold mine in South Africa that is 3.5 km into the Earth! In fact the researchers that are studying this place have shown that the communities of microbes that grow there are cut off from the surface and are totally unique in nature, when compared to surface microbes. Very fascinating - this has astrobiological implications with respect to other planets indeed, if biology somehow got there in the past, or formed there.

I hope this makes sense - radioactive materials in the crust of the Earth are helping to produce compounds in the rocks that the microbes 'eat.' In this gold mine, they find these unique microbes in cracks of rocks - they don't find them where there aren't cracks. So it seems there needs to be some sort of interface.

[ GeoffreyBriggsatNASAARC - 73 - 08:52:30 ]
RE: Mrs Laurino's class, MA If there is liquid water underneath the surface of Mars would it be warm or cold?
We believe that temperatures increase at a rate of about 25 degrees C per mile because, like Earth, Mars has an interior heated by radioactive decay. Subsurface water on Mars will be frozen as ice in the top few miles except in locations where there MAY be lingering volcanic heating. It may be that all the subsurface water on Mars is locked in the frozen "cryosphere" but there could be enough to fully saturate the fozen layer. If you descended about 2 miles near the equator temperatures would be warm enough to allow brines to exist (that is, water with a lot of salts in it). If you descended further temperatures would eventually be reached (zero Centigrade/273 Kelvin) where water could be liquid without such salts. The temperature would continue to increase at a rate of about 25 degrees Centigradeper mile.

[ GeoffreyBriggsatNASAARC - 78 - 08:58:35 ]
RE: [Linda/NASAQuest] Great to see you! Yes, the Name box is broken, so your identifier needs to be in the message box. Thanks
There is no question about Mars having an atmosphere -- we have measured it many times. The pressure is very low -- only about one percent of that on Earth. It is mainly composed of carbon dioxide with only small amounts of argon, nitrogen and oxygen. There is just a trace of water vapor in the atmosphere. During the winter months, the atmosphere condenses on the dark polar cap at the same time that it sublimes from the illuminated polar cap. There are thin water ice clouds in the atmosphere and, quite often, big dust storms. The atmospheric circulation is like a simpler version of Earth's -- simpler because there are no oceans on Mars to influence the circulation.

[ Jon_Rask/NASA_Ames - 80 - 08:59:40 ]
RE: Since we cannot merely "move" a human to Mars, we cannot assume the existence of DNA as the life code. Therefore, in creating our organism, do we need to address DNA as DNA or can we rename the "life code" as something else. MsMookinisClass
Now you're really thinking! Excellent question. One of the big questions astrobiologists have is, "if there was life on Mars, did it have an independent and unique genesis/origin as the life on Earth?" Its a good bet that life in the universe, if it exists elsewhere, is carbon based - but we have to allow alternative possibilities. However, when you look to space, we see the chemistry needed for life out there, and in roughly the same abundances we see in this solar system.

We see that a unit of RNA (a single stranded template of a DNA molecule), a ribosomal unit, seems to be ubiquitous, or present in all life on Earth. We'd probably look to see if the 16sRNA unit were in a 'Mars microbe' - and if it weren't there, then we might conclude a unique origin. DNA seems to be a good working software for life.

[ GeoffreyBriggsatNASAARC - 83 - 09:03:37 ]
RE: Mrs Laurino's 8th grade class - Massachusetts We read that there is evidence that there were large bodies of water on the surface of Mars. What do you think happened to the water? Was Mars warmer before?
This is a big, unanswered question. Some of the water is locked in the polar caps (which are a few miles thick). Some may be in glaciers buried by dust. Much may have found its way into the subsurface where it is frozen as gound ice. Some may be found beneath the permafrost in liquid form. We also know that water can be physically adsorbed onto the dust and rubble that make up the martian 'regolith" (top most surface materials). Some has also been lost to space. Figuring all this out quantitatively is a big challenge for the Mars exploration program.

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 87 - 09:06:51 ]
RE: Mrs Laurino's 8th grade class - Massachusetts We read that there is evidence that there were large bodies of water on the surface of Mars. What do you think happened to the water? Was Mars warmer before?
Hi, Please check message 83 - Dr. Briggs answered your question.

[ Jon_Rask/NASA_Ames - 88 - 09:07:57 ]
RE: Where would be the best place to look for microorganisms in Mars? Are ice sheets a good place to look?
If there were microbes on Mars, the would want to live in places where they could have access to liquid water (if we're assuming characteristsics like Earth life) and biogenic nutrients. In areas rich in ice and snow that may experience melting from time to time, or in the subsurface, deep enough where the temps are warm enough and pressures are high enough for water to be in liquid form.

Regions of permafrost may also be a good place to look - since there is strong evidence that Mars had flowing water on its surface for geologically significant time, microbiology may have found a niche. After Mars changed, becoming very cold and dry and presumably losing much of its atmosphere, the microbes - if they were there - could have been frozen into the permafrost.

[ GeoffreyBriggsatNASAARC - 90 - 09:09:10 ]
RE: I noticed that NASA simulations are dealing with polar caps and permafrost (in Dr. Brigg's journal). May my Martian have equipment to survive (I know he can't live in a bubble) such as clothing that can be changed and maybe some machinery so it can live in changing conditions?
You are obviously thinking of a very advanced form of martian life -- perhaps an astronaut who has decided not to return to Earth. In that case, the martian would certainly have clothes and equipment to allow him or her to survive in the rigorous conditions that mars presents.

[ Jon_Rask/NASA_Ames - 96 - 09:13:00 ]
RE: Could a Martian live underground? What could he eat to survive? Would it be able to get it's energy from breaking down Martian soil? What else could it eat?
I think this was answered earlier.

[ GeoffreyBriggsatNASAARC - 100 - 09:14:16 ]
RE: How hard is Mars' crust? What is under Mars'surface that might harm my Martian?
The martian surface appears to be mainly made of rocks derived from magma -- basalts that are very hard. However, the surface of Mars has been beaten up by impacts (asteroids and meteorites) that has created a deep rubble surface. In places there appear to be layers of sedimentary rocks, probably less hard than the basalts. And there are lots of sand dunes. So, the upper surface is dusty, sandy and rubbley; deeper it is probably pretty hard. I hope this helps.

[ GeoffreyBriggsatNASAARC - 101 - 09:15:54 ]
RE: What is the gravity like on mars?
Because Mars is much smaller than earth but made of similar materials it has a les strong gravity field. It is about 38% as strong as that of Earth.
[ Jon_Rask/NASA_Ames - 108 - 09:21:36 ]
One thing is for sure - gravity shapes life. Biology reacts to the gravity field of Earth according to genes that appear to be affected by gravity - and there are lots of them! So, if you were to compare the same biological specimen on Earth to it living/growning on Mars, it would most definitely be affected and be changed. Gravity affects the shape of cells, how chemicals are transported between them, and even how organisms grow. One experiment with Moss cultures in space showed that microgravity induced a 'spiral growth pattern.' Moss never exhibits that growth pattern on Earth. At this time that mystery remains unexplained!
Note: at least for the kind of moss grown in this culture. [I'm not a moss expert :) ]

[ unknown - 105 - 09:17:35 ]
Mrs Laurino's class, MA You said Mars became cold, dry, and lost much of it's atmosphere. Do you have any idea why mars changed so much all of the sudden?

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 112 - 09:23:18 ]
RE: thanks for the chat opportunity. Ms. Mookini's Class
Thanks for joining us. We'll look forward to your final designs!

[ GeoffreyBriggsatNASAARC - 113 - 09:24:23 ]
RE: Where would be the best place to look for microorganisms in Mars? Are ice sheets a good place to look?
On Earth, in Siberia and in the Antarctic, micro organisms have been found to survive for a very long time in ground ice -- perhaps as long as millions of years. On Mars the inclination of the spin axis (presently about 25 degrees similar to Earth's) oscillates over a wide range (up to about 50 degrees) over time scales of about a million years. This oscillation evidently can change the climate quite dramatically so searching the polar caps is probably a good idea for future Mars missions. Of course, your task is to design a martian rather than to search for one.

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 115 - 09:26:10 ]
RE: Mrs. Laurino's class, MA Thank you so much for taking the time to help us. We learned a lot.
Thank you for your thoughtful questions. We look forward to seeing your final designs.

[ unknown - 116 - 09:26:27 ]
thank you!!

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 117 - 09:27:40 ]
We will be wrapping up the chat in about 2 minutes. Thanks for joining us, and thanks to our experts for you thorough answers!

[ Jon_Rask/NASA_Ames - 118 - 09:28:32 ]
RE: If the Martian is a bacterial or viral, will the climate affect the way my Martian survives? (Will it need warmth if it bacterial or viral?)
Certainly. About viruses: they need a cell to do their work, so if you have martian viruses, the will need a cell to replicate. But, perhaps a symbiosis between the two could be imagined. Also, since the inclination of Mars changes wildly (there isn't a big moon to stablize the planet's spin), the planet tips up to 50 degrees! This means that there are periods of time when Mars experiences a great deal more warming in the hemisphere pointed to the sun that presently. As a result, those time periods may be "when Mars blooms with biology". So I suppose its possible that there are time periods that come only every million years when conditions may be favorable for biology.

[ Jon_Rask/NASA_Ames - 119 - 09:30:01 ]
RE: Can we design some sort of bacteria to grow on Mars?
Absolutely. This is likely the most plausible idea. Go for it!
Growing IN the planet may also be easier to justify and support.

[ GeoffreyBriggsatNASAARC - 122 - 09:31:48 ]
RE: What is the time like on Mars
The martian day is similar in length to the Earth's -- it is about 40 minutes longer (24 hours 37 min 22 sec). We call a martian day a "sol". The year is quite a bit longer -- 687 days. Because the martian spin axis is tilted at about 24 degrees (similar to Earth's), Mars experiences seasons as we do. Of course, each season is much longer because the year is longer. On Earth the seasons are of equal length because Earth is in a near circular orbit about the Sun. By contrast, Mars has a somewhat eccentric orbit and as a result the seasons are not all the same length.

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 121 - 09:31:32 ]
We are not accepting any more questions at this time. Though our experts may still be working on answering some of your questions, we will not be posting new ones. Thanks for joining us.


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