China is confirmed to supply a micro-satellite for a planned Russian mission to Mars in 2009. The strange sounding Phobos-Grunt mission (the Grunt means soil as the mission is also intended to return a sample from the Martian moon Phobos) is the first Russian mission to Mars since they lost a probe in 1996 to a booster failure. The China-Russia deal was actually first reported last year, but the deal was only formally inked during Chinese President Hu Jintao's current visit to Moscow. If all goes according to plan, after entering Mars' orbit, the Chinese micro-satellite will be detached from the Russian spacecraft, and probe the Martian space environment. The "Phobos Explorer" spacecraft, will also carry some equipment developed by the Hong Kong Polytechnic.
Potential openings to large caves have been spotted on the Martian surface. Glen Cushing, from the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Flagstaff, Arizona has reported on the findings, which he spotted in THEMIS (Mars Odyssey's Thermal Emission Imaging System) images of the Arsia Mons region near the equator of Mars. The caves (if caves they are) were given away by what look to be collapsed roofs, with the holes ranging in size from 100 to 252 metres. Several of the dark spots have been probed using thermal infrared imaging which reveals their temperature to be suspiciously consistent at any time of day or night. This suggests the dark spots are not simply pits, which would have sunlit sides and nor do they have the expected telltale rays of ejected dust that would indicate an impact origin. If they are indeed caves, then they may contain water in stable conditions, in which case their existence would be very beneficial to any future long term manned missions to Mars. The caves would make ideal ready-made dwellings for the astronauts, unless of course … they’re already occupied. More at nature.com.
One of the abiding dreams of science fiction writers and space scientists is the idea of turning Mars into a planet capable of supporting life on an Earth-like scale. This dream now looks a step closer to reality (though we probably couldn’t do it anytime in the next few hundred years) with the confirmation that huge new deposits of ice water have been discovered on Mars. In fact, Mars's southern polar ice cap contains enough water to flood the entire planet approximately 36 feet deep if melted. Radar measurements from the Mars Express orbiter have found ice fields that are up to 2.2 miles (3,500 meters) thick in places. Equally intriguingly, the ice is very pure, with only about 10 percent dust contamination. Yet this still only accounts for a small percentage of the original water volumes thought to once exist on Mars. Either it is still there, locked up beneath the surface in as yet undiscovered places, or it has leaked slowly away into space through the thin Martian atmosphere. But the more water is discovered, the more plausible becomes the idea that we might one day be able to melt it and start the stupendous job of creating a second Earth in the solar system.
Mars is warming up says NASA, and the climate change denial lobby is having a field day, claiming that this proves that a warmer Earth is simply part of a solar system wide process caused by increased radiation levels from the sun. Well I think they are dangerously, disastrously wrong, and we should all be really very worried indeed. We all know of course that the Martian civilisation retreated underground centuries ago, and clearly their War Machine is now cranking up production. Secret underground factories are even now at full capacity, cranking out thousands of Cylinders and Tripods. All that waste heat has to go somewhere, so I would implore NASA to turn their resources to seeking out the thermal vents used by the Martians to dissipate the waste heat. Then we can launch a pre-emptive strike on these hidden factories, before they can deploy their Weapons Of Mass Destruction against us.
Well, if you’ll believe that, you’ll believe anything, but climate change deniers are asking people to swallow an equally outrageous whopper. It is absolutely true that NASA have said “"for three Mars summers in a row, deposits of frozen carbon dioxide near Mars' south pole have shrunk from the previous year's size, suggesting a climate change in progress” but this does not imply that Earth and Mars are suffering the same shared effect.
There are far more differences than similarities between Earth and Mars to start making grand comparisons like this. To begin with, the changes have been observed around the South Polar Cap, and not the entire planet, so this is hardly conclusive evidence of a planet wide effect. We must also consider the impact of the eccentricity of the Martian orbit combined with its obliquity (the angle of its spin axis to the orbital plane), which means that it not only periodically swings closer to the Sun (perihelion), but also wobbles in its orbit. As a result the climate is prone too much greater seasonal swings than we experience on Earth. This effect is also exacerbated by the lack of a large moon to dampen down the wobble. Then there are also things like seasonal dust storms to consider, which are large and long lasting enough to swing temperatures through several degrees of variation.
So there are plenty of alternative reasons for the observed warming on Mars, but please do what I did to write this posting. Go out and research the facts and make up your own mind. The information is out there and pretty easy to find. Here’s a good start at RealClimate.org which does a much better job of summarising the flaws in the Mars climate change argument than I can.