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Guest: Dr. Kirsten Siebach; Topics: Mars geology, rovers, searching for life on Mars, planetary protection, forward contamination of Mars and much more.
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We welcomed Dr. Kirsten Siebach to the show to discuss her Mars work. Please check out her website and follow along with us as listeners emailed in questions based on their visit to her site. See https://kirstensiebach.com for more information. We opened our one segment 70 minute discussion with an update on waking up the Mars rover Opportunity. We talked about communications with the rover, the DSN and orbiting satellites that relay the signals from Earth to Opportunity, and the wakeup music NASA has been playing to Opportunity to get it to start functioning again. You can find out more about the NASA Opportunity wakeup music at
https://qz.com/quartzy/1356076/nasas-playlist-of-wakeup-songs-for-opportunity-the-mars-rover/ or a host of other websites that have been reporting on this subject as well as making the playlist available for play. A listener asked if Opportunity fans could suggest music to NASA for the wakeup effort but I did not find anything about making such suggestions. If you find that to be possible, please post it on the blog. Dr. Siebach was still hopeful Opportunity would wake up and said the Martian dust devil season was coming up and perhaps the wind would blow off the solar panels so Opportunity to get charged up.
Our guest was asked about the total lifetime distance travelled by Opportunity so far. The distance was around 43 KM so we then started talking about what a geologist could on Mars compared to the rover and if having boots on the ground was economically beneficial given the much higher cost per person than for a rover. Don't miss this discussion and what our guest had to say about boots vs. rovers.
Another human related topic dealt with human contamination on Mars. I mentioned the article regarding the research from Dr. Fox at the University of Houston regarding already existing forward contamination on Mars. The article can be found on multiple website but here is one for your convenience: www.uh.edu/news-events/stories/2018/june2018/062718-george-fox-space-bacteria.php. This discussion led to a more complete discussion regarding planetary protection issues. Make sure you listen to what our guest said on this topic.
Kirsten was asked via listener emails to clear up confusion about water on Mars. Our guest went over the locations where water is believed to exist, she talked about both poles but also the very cold temperatures there. Kirsten also mentioned some water in the atmosphere but not much. In the end, I asked her about Martian water, where it likely existed, and if could support a Martian settlement. You might be surprised by her response to this question.
Our guest said that her special interest in Mars focused on ancient rocks going back 3.5 billion years. Our guest added in that methane was a big mystery. The mention of methane led us to organics and searching for life on Mars, either currently or in the past. At one point, a listener asked if there were fossils on Mars and our guest said none had been found to date and that there were explanations for rock patterns that looked like fossils. We had much to say about searching for life at any level on Mars and what it would take to make a definitive announcement that life had been discovered on Mars, either now or in the past. Again, a most interesting discussion.
A listener sent in an email asking our guest to tell us what a Boxwork Fracture was as she had photos and information on this structure on her website. In addition, we talked about Martian sedimentary rocks and I asked about the difference with an Earth sedimentary rock. This brought us to the topic of plate tectonics on Earth but found nowhere else in the solar system. The Martian moons were talked along with two possible theories regarding the origin of the mons.
A few students emailed our guest asking career path and university subject study paths regarding the work our guest does with Mars. Kirsten had much to say about the study of terrestrial geology plus other sciences. If you are a student and interested in these fields and disciplines, for sure you want to hear what our guest said about the paths to take to doing planetary and Mars geological work.
Before we ended the program, Alan in Dallas asked our guest how fast the field she was in was moving given her recent Cal Tech graduation. We had quite the discussion on the expansion of knowledge re Mars, planetary geology, and of course timelines. Again, all students should definitely listen to what our guest had to say on these matters.
Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog. You can reach Dr. Siebach through me or her website per the above URL.