"Life on Mars in Hawaii" at 2013 Ignite STEM Week Hawaii


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Presentation given on March 2, 2013 at the Ignite STEM Week Hawaii event held at the Imaginarium. Fast-paced Ignite format requires 20 auto-advancing slides for 15 seconds each for a 5-minute presentation. Video recording here: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/29686064

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  • Aloha. My name is Brian Shiro, and I am here today to tell you about a research project I am contributing to near the summit of Mauna Kea that is helping us learn about life on Mars.
  • Mars has beckoned humanity for centuries. It is the only planet other than Earth in our solar system with conditions that could support life. In the past, it was much warmer and wetter, leading to the tantalizing question whether life ever arose there. In the future, it may harbor a new branch of human civilization.
  • We have made many attempts to visit Mars. Many have failed, but in recent years we have a very good success rate. So far there have been 4 landers and 4 rovers on Mars, 2 of which are operating today. Space tourist Dennis Titto announced this week his ambitious but doable “Inspiration Mars” mission to send two people on a Mars flyby in 2018.
  • With photos like this from the Curiosity Rover, we feel more engaged and participation in Mars exploration. We are learning more and more about the geologic and climatic history of Mars, and the more we learn, the more interesting it gets.
  • In 1996, a martian meteorite found in Antarctica sparked a debate when it had a structure that looked like magnetite manufactured by bacteria. Did Mars ever have life, and if so, what was it like? Are fossil or even living life forms still there? Are we martians?
  • Water is thought to be necessary for life. Mars has abundant water even today. This map shows where the water is, with warmer colors showing the greater concentrations. Most of this water is frozen in the form of subsurface permafrost.
  • What is permafrost? It is frozen ground that stays frozen year-round. On earth, most permafrost is near the poles or on the tops of tall mountains.
  • Permafrost landscapes are often characterize by interlocking polygon shapes that form when permafrost partially freezes and thaws seasonally. We see these on Mars as well as on Earth. They are some of the best pieces of evidence that Mars has abundant frozen water near the surface.
  • If we can drill and find water close to the surface, we can use it for drinking, rocket fuel, oxygen to breathe, etc. It will enable human settlement on Mars.
  • On Earth, permafrostand other frozen environments can preserve organic molecules, bacteria, and fungi millionsof years.If we assume that life got started during the warmer, wetter conditions of Mars' past, could it still be hanging on somewhere under its frigid, sparse atmosphere? Without a careful examination of hundreds of potential habitats around the red planet, that question is probably impossible to definitively answer. But we can get a sense of whether that's possible by examining life in extreme conditions in analog environments on Earth.http://arstechnica.com/science/2012/12/permafrost-microbes-survive-conditions-similar-to-those-on-mars/
  • What’s an analog? It’s something that is similar to something else, or analogous to it. An analog environment on Earth is one that is similar to those found on other planets such as Mars. Mauna Kea, Hawaii is an example of a good analog environment since it has similar geology to Mars and the Moon.
  • In fact, Apollo astronauts came here to train for their missions in the 1960s. Just change the sky color from blue to red, and that this looks a lot like Mars.
  • We know it gets cold on Hawaii’s tallest mountain. Here is snow pictured there last week. It’s easy to see how these conditions could lead to permafrost in some areas near the summit.
  • During the last ice ages, there were even glaciers near the Mauna Kea summit. If you know what you’re looking for, you can see the telltale signs of glaciation when you go there. This is why the Mauna Kea Ice Age Reserve is there.
  • In 1969, permafrost was discovered in a crater near the summit of Mauna Kea. Despite the glacial history, this was not expected since the average annual temperature is above freezing.
  • The permafrost was only in the northern slopes of craters, which remain shadowed for much of the day and therefore stay cooler. Similarly, we have found water deposits in shadowed craters on both the Moon and Mars.
  • So we’ve set up infrared cameras and temperature data loggers to on these crater wall slopes to learn what is going on. Later, we plan to also do a geophysical survey of the subsurface to measure the permafrost thickness and properties.
  • Other analog projects in Hawaii: PISCES has had three NASA-led field tests on Mauna Kea with robotic technologies to “live off the land” to utilize local resources to turn regolith (soil) into rocket fuel “dust to thrust” and find subsurface water.
  • Other analog projects in Hawaii: HI-SEAS will commence in a few months on Mauna Loa. They are building a habitat there similar to the one at MDRS in Utah (pictured). A crew of 6 will live there for 120 days, carrying out various research projects to learn how to live on Mars.
  • Mahalo for your attention! On to Mars!
  • "Life on Mars in Hawaii" at 2013 Ignite STEM Week Hawaii

    1. 1. Life on Mars in Hawaiʻi Brian Shiro @brianshiro University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa UH NASA Astrobiology Institute
    2. 2. Mars: Earth’s Neighbor 2  
    3. 3. 2018?Missions to Mars 3  
    4. 4. Exploring Mars Curiosity Rover 4  
    5. 5. Life on Mars? Martian meteorite ALH 84001 5  
    6. 6. Water on Mars credit: LANL 6  
    7. 7. What is Permafrost? 7  
    8. 8. Permafrost on MarsPermafrost on Earth 8  
    9. 9. Permafrost could enable human settlement. MarsOne Provides drinking water, oxygen, rocket fuel. 9  
    10. 10. Permafrost microbes on Earth survive conditions similar to those on Mars (Nicholson et al. 2013) 10  
    11. 11. What’s an Analog? Mauna Kea 11  
    12. 12. Mauna Kea Summit Puʻu WekiuApollo  astronauts  Lovell  and  Haise  training  on  Mauna  Kea  (credit:  NASA)   12  
    13. 13. It gets cold up there!February 2013 13  
    14. 14. Cold enough for glaciers in the pastMauna  Kea  was  one  of  the  few  places  in  the  tropics  that  was  repeatedly  covered  by  glaciers  during  the  ice  ages.  (Anslow  et  al.  2010)   14  
    15. 15. And still has permafrost today 15   (Woodcock 1974)
    16. 16. Summit craters offer shade Puʻu Makanaka 16  
    17. 17. And create microclimates that harbor permafrost on north-facing walls Thermal Infrared Image of the Crater Wallelevation 4,200 m (13,800 ft) 17  
    18. 18. PISCES   http://pisces.hilo.hawaii.edu/Robotic field tests in 2008, 2010, 2012. Looking for subsurface water. 18  
    19. 19. HI-SEAS:Hawaii Space ExplorationAnalog & Simulation A crew of six will spend 120 days living and working here in 2013. http://hi-seas.org/ MDRS (Utah) 19  
    20. 20. Mahalo! Brian Shirobrian.shiro@gmail.com @brianshiro Devon Island (Canada) 20