Another “Major” Mars Discovery to be Announced by NASA

By Keith Cowing
December 2, 2000
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According to a NASA press release, “Imaging scientists Dr. Michael Malin and Dr. Ken Edgett from NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft will present what they describe as their most significant discovery yet at a Space
Science Update at 2:00 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 7. Their
findings are being published in the December 8 issue of Science

This science update will be held in the James E. Webb Auditorium
at NASA Headquarters, 300 E St., S.W., Washington, DC, and will be
carried live on Telstar 5, transponder 11. The Ku-band satellite
is located 97 degrees West longitude with a downlink frequency of
11929 MHz, vertical polarity.

Please note that, due to coverage of the ongoing Shuttle mission,
NASA Television does not expect to carry this briefing, and two-
way question-and-answer capability from agency centers will not be

The indivudals participating in this press conference will be:

  • Dr. Ed Weiler, Associate Administrator for Space Science, NASA
    Headquarters, Washington, DC., (moderator).
  • Dr. Michael Malin principal investigator, Mars Orbiter Camera on
    NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft at Malin Space Science
    Systems (MSSS), San Diego, CA.
  • Dr. Ken Edgett, staff scientist at MSSS.
  • Dr. Jim Garvin, Mars Exploration Program Scientist at NASA
  • Dr. Ken Nealson, director of the Center for Life Detection at
    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA.

The presence of an astrobiologist on the panel has had many people speculating about the nature of the new discovery. It should be noted that an Astrobiologist (Bruce Jakosky) was also present at the June 2000 press briefing regarding the discovery of liquid water near the surface of Mars. Jakosky was able to provide insight into the implications of that discovery for life on Mars even though that discovery had no direct or indirect biological component to it. As such, it is likely that Ken Nealson, who has specialized in looking into the “biomarkers or “life’s signatures” that might allow a determination of life’s presence on a planet from afar.

While NASA has been rather tight lipped about what this discovery is, some general indications appeared in the 2 December 2000 issue of the Sunday Times in London:

“NASA scientists have discovered ancient sea or lake beds on the surface of
Mars that could once have harboured life, writes Jonathan Leake.

The discovery is among the most significant concerning Mars so far, because
such places are the most likely locations for fossils or other signs of past life.

Nasa will announce the discovery in this week’s edition of Science with the
suggestion that the next generation of Mars landings should be sent to such
areas. “


If indeed this is what is going to be announced it is rather curious – since Malin and Edgett have made previous statements that they did not see evidence for ancient oceans on Mars. Indeed, they are scheduled to present a paper at the Fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) from 15-19 December 2000 titled “MGS MOC and Water on Mars: No Northern Plains Ocean, no Gusev Crater Lake Sediment Access

However, just as this paper (or atleast its abstract) repeats their earlier view that they do not see evidence of large oceans, they do refer to other possible locations that could be more promising:

“Other impact basins, however, do show tantalizing evidence of access to layered sediment (whether subaerial or sublacustrine is unknown); of particular interest is Holden Crater, connected to Uzboi Vallis, which exhibits outcrops of alternating light- and dark-toned bands. Unfortunately, such locations are inaccessible to presently-conceived lander/rover missions which are dictated by engineering constraints rather than science objectives. New MGS MOC images are received every day, and analysis is on-going.”

Reference was also made to Holden crater’s interesting potential at a press conference in August 2000:

“NASA scientists have yet to decide on the exact landing sites, but Mars program scientist Jim Garvin says areas that might have contained large bodies of standing water–such as a crater called Holden–are strong candidates.”

Regardless of what is announced – or whether Holden crater is even involved in the announcement – it is curious that NASA promotes this announcement as being “major” yet won’t cut away from some routine space activity aboard the Space Station so as to allow this news conference to be broadcast on NASA TV – or for reporters to participate from NASA’s field centers as is normally the case.

Related Links

° 2 December 2000: Dried-up sea beds found on Mars, Sunday Times, London

° 1 December 2000: Major Mars Discovery to be Announced at Dec 7 Briefing, NASA PAO

° MGS MOC and Water on Mars: No Northern Plains Ocean, no Gusev Crater Lake Sediment Access, abstract, AGU Fall Meeting.

° Holden Crater floor near intersection with Uzboi Vallis, MGS MOC Image m0302733, USGS

° Landforms on the floor of Holden Crater, MGS MOC Image m0202300, USGS

° Junction of Uzboi Vallis with Holden Crater SW rim, MGS MOC Image m0802225, USGS

° Holden Crater, Roving Mouse.com

° 10 August 2000: Double Feature on Mars, InScight

° Mars Global Surveyor, NASA JPL

° NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, NASA JPL

° NASA Public Affairs

° Malin Space Science Systems

° Science Magazine, current edition (registration required to view abstracts; fee required for full access)

Background Information

° A Year of Mars News: It was the worst of times; it was the best of times, SpaceRef

Mars News from the past year

° Whole Mars Catalog News

° 19 October 2000: NASA Outlines Mars Exploration Program for the Next Two Decades , NASA

° 19 October 2000: Bacterial Species 2-9-3 Resurrected after a Quarter of a Billion Years, SpaceRef

° 20 August 2000: Arctic and Antarctic Analogs for Liquid Water on Mars, SpaceRef

° 27 June 2000: British Researchers Try to Challenge Evidence of Mars Meteorite Fossils – But Don’t Make Their
, SpaceRef

° 27 June 2000: NASA Makes Mars 2003 Mission Selection, SpaceRef

° 25 June 2000: Mars Once Had Salty Oceans – Just Like Earth. , SpaceRef

° 22 June 2000: Mars May Be Even Wetter Than It Was Last Week, SpaceRef

° 22 June 2000: Mars, Like Earth, is not a Simple Planet to Understand, SpaceRef

° 12 May 2000: NASA Will Either Land or Orbit Mars in 2003 – But Not Both, SpaceRef

° 12 April 2000: NASA Advisors Explain Mars Mission Failures to a Concerned Congress, SpaceRef

° 28 March 2000: NASA Reveals Probable Cause of Mars Polar Lander and Deep Space-2 Mission Failures, SpaceRef

° 13 March 2000: Testimony of Thomas Young, Chairman of the Mars Program Independent Assessment Team before the House Science Committee, NASA

° 13 March 2000: Two Mars Mission Reports Delivered to NASA; A Third to Follow, SpaceRef

° 20 February 2000: Mars Exploration: AAAS Ponders: “Where do we go from here?”, SpaceRef

° 17 January 2000: NASA Concludes All Attempts to Communicate with Lander, NASA

° 7 January 2000: Mars Program Independent Assessment Team Begins Work, NASA

° 4 December 1999: Mars Polar Lander Mission Status, NASA JPL

° 30 November 1999: Mars Polar Lander Mission Status, NASA JPL

° 10 November 1999: Mars Climate Orbiter Failure Board Releases Report, Numerous NASA Actions Underway in Response

° 30 September 1999: Mars Climate Orbiter Team Finds Likely Cause of Loss, NASA

° 20 September 1999: Mars Climate Orbiter to Arrive at Mars This Week, NASA

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.