INDIA ORBITS MARS!
India - Be very careful about your methane detection conclusions. Posted on 10/5/2014.
On September 24, 2014 India joined an exclusive club of interplanetary explorers by putting a spacecraft into orbit around Mars. On the matrix below the axis term is INDIA TO MARS (the transliteration for Mars also means March - The Romans named this month after the planet Mars). At the same skip is ORBIT. At skip -1 is METHANE. The orbiter is searching for methane, which may be produced there by life or decaying life forms. The word SEARCHER is at an ELS. Methane was detected earlier by carefully observing the planet over several Mars years (and all Martian seasons) with NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility, run by the University of Hawaii, and the W. M. Keck telescope, both at Mauna Kea, Hawaii. But initial positive reports about it being at Gale Crater where the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover were quickly dismissed. Hopefully the Indian Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) will help resolve the issue.
Biology, Methane, and a Possible Hint of the Real Martian Air Pressure
Given the claimed discovery of methane plumes on Mars at Syrtis Major, Nili Fossae and Terra Sabae (see Figure 2 below) that have a probable biological origin (Krasnopolsky et al., 2004)1 it was natural that MSL had instruments designed to detect methane. Of particular interest would be methane producing or consuming bacteria that might be attached to dust particles. Bloom of such organisms, with a means of encapsulating or producing methane (lighter than the ambient CO2) might explain the lifting process seen in dust storms and/or dust devils. When MSL landed there was brief, but supposedly still unwarranted excitement when methane was detected by the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) shown on Figure 3.
Where did the methane seen by SAM during its initial check out come from? SAM had miniature pumps (Wide Range Pumps - see Figure 3). In a press conference (see http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/25004956) , Mahaffy stated, "The really nice thing about these pumps is they exhaust naturally right at Mars pressure, 10 millibar, 7 millibar. Um, and it turns out there is a very slow leak, uh, into the Tunable Laser Spectrometer and so there was just a little bit of a residual atmosphere” (that is, from the Earth)."
He went on to say, “and so the tens of millibars that we had in there, I think we had 51 millibar and we had assumed that the pump would be fine evacuating that, we routinely evacuate Mars ambient out of the cell but it was just high enough the current sensor on the pump said, nah this is a little bit too high I‘m gonna turn myself off and it did but SAM continued merrily along its measuring path assuming that we had not turned off and so we measured that gas with both the mass spectrometer and the Tunable Laser Spectrometer. It really led to some excitement. The TLS (Tunable Laser Spectrometer) Team, Chris and Greg, their eyes were wide open. They saw all this methane, and it turns out it's terrestrial methane, but it was kind of a good test….
The 51 mbar mentioned by Dr. Mahaffy should not be overlooked. That might be the first real clue about how high Martian pressure really is. On Earth that pressure would equate to an altitude of about 63,057 feet or 19,220 meters.
Just as life plays a major role in shaping Earth’s atmosphere, the same might prove true for the ancient atmosphere of Mars, and it may still play a role. There appears to be ample reason to revisit NASA’s dismissal of positive results about detection of life by the Labeled Release (LR) life detection experiment on both Vikings (Levin, 1997).2 NASA’s 30-year rejection of organic chemicals found by the Vikings was overturned by Dr. Christopher McKay of NASA Ames on January 4, 2011.3
Previously, the 1997 Levin paper mentions what looked like lichens seen on Mars (at least until a technician under the order of NASA administrator Dr. James Fletcher went through the JPL control room and manually turned the color knobs on the monitors to make everything look red (see Figures 41A and 41B). If Levin were right about lichens living on Mars now, could we extrapolate an air pressure based on maximum altitude where lichens are found on Earth? While one article described lichens (Cordyceps sinensis) living at Dolpa in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal at 5,177 m (16,984 feet) where pressure would be about 527 mbar, Sancho et al. (2007)4 described an ESA astrobiology experiment on the Foton-M2 mission aboard a Soyuz rocket launched on May 31, 2005. They state that,
“It returned to Earth after 16 days in space. Most lichenized fungal and algal cells survived in space after full exposure to massive UV and cosmic radiation, conditions proven to be lethal to bacteria and other microorganisms… Moreover, after extreme dehydration induced by high vacuum, the lichens proved to be able to recover, in full, their metabolic activity within 24 hours.”
For the record, I believe that the real pressure on Mars is much higher 51 mbar. Based onthe altitude of status clouds seen there - 13 km above aeroid (16 km above PathFinder), I think that 511 mbar is a much better estimate.
WHY INDIA NEEDS TO BE EXTREMELY CAUTIOUS. As with the quick reversal of methane detection by Mars SAM discussed above, NASA has a record of putting out information that seems sensational when it comes to Mars, and then retracting it (sometimes within a day or less), possibily for political reasons. Examples include changing the Martian sky color from blue to red (or butterscotch) in 1976, only to let us see 36 years later that the color seen at MSL is blue; showing us a "face" at Cydonia in 1976, only to scramble that face many years later; telling us that no organic chemstry was seen at Viking 1 or 2, and then revealing that their initial conclusion was wrong. Of course, we also saw that after President Clinton announced that bacteria or bacteria-like fossils were seen in a meteorite from Mars, this was later strongly challenged. So my advice to the Indians is quite simple - don't let NASA bully you into a conclusion about methane on Mars. Honestly publish your best opinion based solely on what your probe indicates. And while I ask you to put out your best opinion, please also do your best to not be bullied by Indian politicians.
Whatever the truth is about Mars SAM, JPL has a less than stellar record with respect to publishing the truth about its MSL findings. Examples are discussed in my article about Wind Boom and Disinformation. This is why it is so important to avoid being intimidated by NASA.
1 Krasnopolsky, V., Maillard, J., Owen, T. (2004). Detection of methane in the Martian atmosphere: evidence for life? ICARUS, 172. doi: 10.1016/j.icarus.2004.07.004
2 Levin, G.V. (1997) The Viking Labeled Release Experiment and Life on Mars, Proceedings of Spie-The International Society for Optical Engineering, “Instruments, Methods, and Missions for the Investigation of Extraterrestrial Microorganisms. 29 July-1August 1997, San Diego, California.
4 Sancho, L.G.; De La Torre, R.; Horneck, G.; Ascaso, C.; De Los Rios, A.; Pintado, A.; Wierzchos, J.; Schuster, M. (2007). "Lichens survive in space: results from the 2005
STATISTICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MATRIX. The spreadsheet showing odds is shown at the bottom of Figure 1. As per my standard protocol, no statistical significance is assigned to the axis term, INDIA TO MARS at its lowest skip in (wrapped) Torah. Special case skip terms in my terminology are a-priori key words at skip +/- 1 and the absolute skip of the axis term. Here we see that ORBIT is the same skip as INDIA TO MARS. Normally when this occurs, the axis term and key word are not only parallel to each other, as they are here, but we find that they are arranged vertically and with no spacing between rows. That is not the case here. So what happened? To see this pair of words a row split of 2 must be used. That means that instead of the computer arranging the letters of the axis term on what it sees as a spiraling cylinder with a circumference equal to that of the axis term, in this case 11,305 letters, it only sees half that number of letters on each line. But half of 11,305 is 5,652.5 letters. The half letter off from a whole number causes the slope seen with both terms at skip 11,305. And why is the row split of 2 necessary to show both terms? The answer is that the computer sees these terms on the opposite side of that spiraling cylinder, and only by cutting the number of letters in rows in half can it bring these terms together. If no row split of 2 was needed here, I would conclude that, as the spreadsheet indicates, there was about 1 chance in 420 to show both terms at a special case skip on a matrix with an area of 726 letters. But, in all honesty, a case could be made to cut that significance in half due to the need to employ the row skip.
As for METHANE there was about 1 chance in 10 to find it at a special case skip. The word SEARCHER was easier to find at a non-special case skip than calling a coin toss correctly. Overall, I rated the odds against finding this matrix by chance to be about 6,133 to 1. However, if we require halving the odds to account for the row split of 2, then the odds would be adjusted to about 3,066 to 1. In favor of retaining the normal protocol is that in fact the row split of 2 is already factored in on my spreadsheets where it comes to the area of the matrix. Where a row split of 2 is used, the matrix area grows to about twice the smaller size, and this is factored in at column F on the spreadsheet. For words not at a special case skip, the number of ways the terms can be found (skips that work) also grows greatly in most cases, and this is factored in at column C. So, while the matrix is not as pretty as it is where no row skip is needed, the spreadsheet still does a very good job in calculating odds. It is best for words like METHANE where there is no question about the right word to look for, but not as good for a term like SEARCHER where I could have accepted SEARCH or DETECTOR or some other term.