- If you've got a nose for news, here's a bulletin: Mars
may smell to high heaven.
- Recent revelations about the red planet from NASA's two
Mars exploration rovers -- Spirit and Opportunity -- have relayed back
details about the volcanic and water-laden landscape.
- For example, at the Meridiani Planum site in which the
wheeled Opportunity now roves, the robotic field geologist found a very
high concentration of sulfur. The chemical form of this sulfur appears
to be in magnesium, iron or other sulfate salts.
- Using its science gear, the robot has detected a hydrated
iron sulfate mineral called jarosite.
- On Earth, rocks with as much salt as this Mars rock either
have formed in water or, after formation, have been highly altered by long
exposures to water. Jarosite may point to the rock's wet history having
been in an acidic lake or an acidic hot springs environment.
- Sulfur, acids, magnesium, iron -- all put together under
the carbon dioxide-rich skies of Mars -- could just reek.
- Eye of the smelling beholder
- "You have sulfur and you have oxidizing environmentsyou
make the sulfate. And then if you end up with some acid-favoring situations,
like acid groundwaters, you make sulfuric acid. Out of that comes hydrogen
sulphide as a byproduct in some reactionsand you start to stink,"
said Jim Garvin, NASA Lead Scientist for Mars and Lunar Exploration in
- Garvin said on his field excursions here on Earth to
volcanic areas, the sulfurous stench to him is a kind of cleansing smell.
"I don't know. It may stink in the eye of the smelling beholder,"
he told SPACE.com .
- While the aroma of Mars might not be daunting for robots,
knowing more about how that environment appeals to future human explorers
is serious business.
- Unpleasant odor
- For one, hydrogen sulphide (H2S) is a gas encountered
worldwide here on Earth. Drilling formations with the presence of H2S can
encounter some very serious problems. While it gives off an unpleasant
odor and can stir up a headache, it is also explosive and poisonous.
- No doubt future Mars explorers tromping about the red
planet will be well-suited to work outside their habitat. But precautions
must be taken.
- Humans on Mars don't have to look back too far in the
space exploration journals to take note of what Apollo moonwalkers encountered.
- After bouncing about on the Moon and crawling back into
their lunar module, several Apollo astronauts noticed they had tracked
back into their home-away-from-home rock and dust particles. In doffing
their helmets, the smell was likened to wet ashes in a fireplace, even
spent gunpowder from a just fired shotgun.
- If Mars is to be home base for 21st century astronauts,
much more data about the planet is necessary before humans set foot, and
nose, on that faraway world.Copyright © 2004 <http://us.rd.yahoo.com/dailynews/space/SIG=grdpua/*http://www.SPACE.com/>SPACE.com.
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