Ologies with Alie Ward - Smologies #27: MARS with Jennifer BuzEpisode Date: September 8, 2023
The Red Planet. A mysterious dusty orb millions of miles away. Our emergency escape bunker. Alie sits down with Dr. Jennifer Buz to talk about what Mars’s DEEEEAL is, why we send rovers there, the p...oetry of the moon Phobos, Martian sunsets and whether we could landscape Mars to look like a golf course. Jennifer is maybe the chillest areologist on this planet and an absolute gem. You're going to want to look at Dr. Jennifer Buz's website JNNFR.BZInfo on the 2020 rover workshop via JPLFull-length (*not* G-rated) 2-part Areology episodes + tons of science linksMore kid-friendly Smologies episodes!Become a patron of Ologies for as little as a buck a monthOlogiesMerch.com has hats, shirts, stickers, totes!Follow @Ologies on Twitter and InstagramFollow @AlieWard on Twitter and InstagramSound editing by Steven Ray Morris, Mercedes Maitland of Maitland Audio, and Jarrett Sleeper of MindJam MediaMade possible by work from Noel Dilworth, Susan Hale, Kelly R. Dwyer, Emily White, & Erin TalbertSmologies theme song by Harold Malcolm
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Welcome back. Another episode of AlliGs. Are you ready? Okay. Mars. So, that orange orb in the night sky, it's fodder for science fiction and it's a place where billionaires ask themselves, can we go there when we ruin the planet we're on? So maybe you love Mars, maybe you maybe you don't know why people love Mars, maybe you're like me and until a few years ago
I was like wait is Mars a really hot like fiery one because it's red and stuff? I had no idea like firey one because it's red and stuff? I had no idea. Okay, Archaeology, let's get into it. So first off Mars has a lot of iron in the soil, which makes it red, which makes it look like the solar system's big bloody eyeball. So hence, we named it after the God of War, Mars. So it's Aries in Greek mythology. And if you want to know more about Romans ripping off Greeks, listen to the mythology episode. So the word Aries means study of Mars. So thisologist was introduced to me via email by my NASA friend Casey, Hi Casey, Hi Christine. Casey's email between us simply said, do you need introductions? No, you do not. Then I received a message back from her saying that she listens to the podcast, so this interview was on.
It was happening. So I got off a plane from a work trip. I headed straight from the airport to a little conference room with squeaky chairs at Caltech in Pasadena to talk about what Mars' deal is. Why is it cold? Why was it named after the deity of battle? What's up with its two moons? One named after the fear and the other of the dread that a company wore. Some super-recent discoveries about life. Insane dust storms, the rovers are building, so please prepare for a journey into space and your rocky subconscious with ariologist, Jennifer Boose.
So you study Mars? Yes. You're an Ariologist? Yes. Is that correct? Yeah, well, I think I'm a planetary geologist who studies Mars, but I study Mars, so I'm an Ariologist. As a planetary geologist, can you run me through, like, what's Mars? What's its deal?
Why is it so dry? How cold is it? How big is it? Just tell me what we're working with here. Give me some specs like if you were if you were a dog and you're like, I don't know what Mars is. Like how would you start? Okay, so Mars, um, you know, it's the next planet for Mars sun. So it's going to be like colder. It's also a lot smaller. At its closest Mars is around 34 million miles. That's 55 million kilometers.
So scale wise Mars is about half the size of Earth and has roughly one third the gravity, one third. So I looked up a few simulators of Mars gravity and in one there's this human in an orange onesie supported by slings taking these graceful leaps around an indoor track Kind of like a giant Marionette in another video. I saw what appeared to be a gaggle of French Cosmonautical tourists taking a ride in a vomit comet
Which is a seatless commercial jet that makes these rollercoaster dips in flights and simulates lower gravity. I don't know, from what I can tell, less gravity looks fun with these middle-aged perisions resorting to whoops, they're hooting, like tiny happy donkeys,
our kids in a ball pit. Woo-hoo-hoo! Ah! So, Mars gravity, take your weight, divide it by three. That is your bounding, happy space pony weight. It's like atmosphere is super thin right now, but in the past, it had a thicker atmosphere and there was water on it for sure.
Like we have evidence for like streams and lakes and all sorts of like things like that. And it was a lot warmer because it had an atmosphere and it used to have a magnetic field. Like we had on earth but it's dead doesn't have one anymore. How do magnetic fields die? Um, it marrs because it's smaller. It can like cool down a lot quicker on earth. It's like hot down the core and we have got iron spinning around and it's also like a big planet. But Mars doesn't have like all those things and so it's core core is just not putting out that kind of motion anymore.
So we're not getting a magnetic field anymore. I had no idea that was even a thing. I didn't know that was an option. Yeah. Does Mars have moons? It has two moons, Phobos and Demos. OK. There's some debate about how the moons form,
but I think most people think they're captured asteroids. So they're really small moons and not like ours. And I think from the surface, they look more like planets. So if you're on Mars, do you see two moons in the sky at the same time? I think you can, but they're so small. I think that they look more like planets. Okay, they just are like little dimmy dots. Yeah, I don't think they don't look like armen for sure.
Okay, I thought maybe have you ever cracked an egg and you got a double yolk? Yeah, it's my lucky day As for Mars's double moons some hot goss Jennifer emailed me that fobo's which she described as a 26 Kilometer-wide lumpy cocoa puff May not have been a captured asteroid But possibly it was formed out of a cloud of dust that was left over from a giant impact, kind of like our own beloved moon. And that possibly, possibly,
Fobos has formed many times over Mars history and it just periodically crashes into the surface, forms a dust cloud around Mars again and then recreates itself into a moon and then crashes again, forms itself a new again but smaller over and over and over. So what do they think happened to make Mars such a dust bowl? So it got dry basically. It used to have water but because it's so much smaller, it's atmosphere atmosphere got lost.
Basically, it doesn't have as much gravity pulling it in. And it also didn't have a magnetic field anymore. And we say our magnetic field protects us. And so the atmosphere just got stripped away over time by the solar wind and other atmospheric loss processes. And so it just lost its atmosphere, it got drier and drier and then now it has a thin atmosphere and everything's just dusty. Does the water evaporate into the solar system? Yeah, it just gets like lost and yeah, basically. I wonder where it goes.
Yeah, I don't know, it just like out there. Imagine just oceans just kind of out. I can imagine just oceans just kind of emisiting around. Maybe I think it's like probably really scattered apart. Okay. Probably just a gas. So we have a super dusty planet. Yeah. Why is it red? It has a lot of iron. It's like rusty. Yeah. And same as like Utah. Yeah. Yeah. Mm-hmm. Okay. So what parts of this chili desert
are we really poking around? Now, the curiosity rover landed in a crater, Gail Crater, named for Walter Frederick Gail, who was an Australian banker by name, but he was a real space to eat by night. So Gail Crater is his huge dent in Mars, and it's filled with a mountain of perhaps wind-wipped debris that's taller than Mount Rainier. It looks like if you pile a bunch of brown sugar
into a shallow bowl or like a little tiny tuft of lint in a belly button. Now why do we care about this crater? Because maybe it was a lake? Why did we put curiosity in the crater? That's where the lake was. Okay, so that's where the cool stuff was. Got it. So if there were going to be like signs that people had a party there, we would find it in the bottom of what used to be like, or we'd be like, there were maybe some old fish in here. Yeah, okay. Yeah, you know, it's like, it's like a basin, so stuff's gonna collect there, and we had seen from orbit that there were like layers that looked like they could have been from a lake or something, what, or people actually really debated what the layers were, and so it's
just people were curious from many different perspectives, and so that's why we went there, but picking like the landing site is like a multi-year thing with like hundreds of people involved and stuff. What's the 2020 gonna peep? What's it looking at? Where's it gonna land? So we don't know yet where it's gonna land. It's like down to three sites. Okay. Now, according to a page up at Marsnext.jpl.nasa.gov, I'll put a link in the show notes. All possible sites where life could have existed and or there's a lot of evidence for rocks and fluids having interacted. And so one of the big ideas behind like past Mars life is that that was like microbes
maybe living in like cracks and rocks and stuff. And so there's also in that area there's also like volcanism and a wide variety of rocks there and a wide variety of ages, which is crucial because Mars was probably habitable in its early history. How long ago do you think Mars was probably habitable? Right, are we talking like five billion years ago or like 30,000 billion years ago?
Oh, no, a long time ago. Okay. Billions of years, like three billion years or something. Maybe there's still some fluid activity more recently, but it's such small amounts that these would be really lonely bugs. Yeah. There's a big group of people that want to send a river back to the same spot where Spirit is, which is kind of a cute thought in some ways.
It is cute. A lot of people are like, no, we want to go somewhere new. Right. But that spot, there's like hydrothermal activity, which is on Earth where a lot of people think life might have started here. So that's why there's a big argument to go back there to... Like primordial Martian soup. Yeah. Kind of. How much water is on Mars and when did we find it?
I say we as though I had anybody to do with it. Currently on Mars, there's not a lot of water. There's some liquid water just in pores of rocks and buried, basically not really exposed on the surface, but there's water ice in the caps. And when did we find it? I think probably the best, when we started getting these early images that showed channels,
there was no solid evidence that it was formed by water, but people were like, the looks like it was formed by water and then you know, we get more and more info on it. Yeah. So what happened with the recent announcement, like everyone, watch out, we have an announcement to make about Mars, and everyone's like, I'm setting my alarm clock, I'm staying up late. Yeah. What happened with that announcement? So there were what people call the building blocks of life
that were found with the curiosity rover. These molecules that are actually really hard to preserve, they were found by the rover pretty fresh looking. And so they're, I don't know, just the building blocks of life that were found, and we didn't think that we would find them, because they can get destroyed really easily So that means that they were like resurfaced like pretty recently, which is really exciting and that they were there at all
It's exciting that they could have formed and so this was a heads up. We have the ingredients to make life We didn't find it yet, but we found the ingredients. And that's a big deal. Yeah. I have one million questions for you. Okay. Is that okay if I ask you one million? Yeah. Okay.
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those are all picked byologists who work in those fields and this ad break allows us to give a ton of money to them. So thanks for listening and thanks sponsors. Okay. Your questions. Greg, Ariel Bulk, Craig Curry and Jorge Barnett all asked the same basic question. Okay.
So this is a super question. Okay. In light of the giant dust storm, it seems to have knocked out the curiosity, what is the most useful to humanity right now information that it has collected since its arrival to the red planet? So, what's the best stuff that the rovers have gotten? Okay, so like, I was thinking about this a lot, and I think that seeing that Mars was habitable in the past was probably the most interesting and maybe useful to humanity kind of thing
because we see how Mars has changed with time and like how Earth might change with time too and also like what the different extremes like that we can have on different planets are. So that's like super interesting. Mariner Cros play, El Martinez, Iroquasha,, Stefan Titus, and Justin M. Gifford all wanted to know, what are the biggest hurdles for terraforming and is there an initiative within NASA or another agency to do so?
Also, follow up question from Alie Ward, what is terraforming? I think terraforming, I don't know the definition, but I feel like it's when you make the surface like have grass on it. Really? No, no, definitely not. That's just what I imagine is like what terraforming is. Landscaping, it's function landscaping. Yeah, you'll have to like that up.
So quick definition here, terraforming is mostly at present a sci-fi term, and it means to transform a planet to be more like Earth, presumably so that we can go live there. So I imagine in the future, HGTV will have a whole flip or flop-esque series dedicated to making over dry, barren planets into like lush boho habitats of our dreams. All we have to do is just painstakingly alter
what already naturally exists. Can you repeat the question? Yeah, essentially, what are the biggest hurdles for terraforming? Oh, okay, so yeah, that we don't have a lot of water or oxygen in the atmosphere, or that the atmosphere is so thin in general. So it's either going to have to be like,
you make the atmosphere thicker somehow by like melting the caps or like taking an atmosphere, but then you need a shield for the atmosphere. So like I think if they existed in bubbles, like if we had like a big dome, maybe you could kind of start doing that that way, where you can like contain your atmosphere and your water and stuff like that. Yeah, so those are the big hurdles in radiation as another hurdle. Because there's not a lot of atmosphere to shield you from it. Exactly. Even though the sun is farther away, you're still like sizzling.
So even if you landscape Mars, you're still going to get a pretty high dose of radiation because of a really thin atmosphere. And also the place is pretty dry. It's pretty sandy. Now there is water trapped in minerals but getting it out would be in technical terms, a ton of work. Christopher Barley had a great question that I didn't even, I hadn't considered. He says, I seem to remember that the northern half of Mars is completely smooth while the southern half is full of craters. Yeah. What's up? Do we understand what caused this and widening consistency?
Yeah, so I think that maybe the major idea for this is that there was a big impact that came in at an oblique angle and just shaved off the top of Mars. And then it was low. And there's also a lot of debate about, they're called the Northern lowlands, the southern highlands and so the southern highlands are like way older and there's like what we think were like catastrophic floods going up there so there's some idea that there was an ocean up there too
which may explain that and then like volcanism related to that like impact so all things that like could have smoothed it out. Oh my gosh. Katherine Woodrow and Michelle Sullivan both asked about microbial life on Mars. Which type of bacteria do you think would be the most likely to be found? Michelle Sullivan was like a cyanobacteria? Yeah, so like extreme files, I think for sure. I couldn't like tell you a specific bacteria,
but like extreme files are things that live in extreme places. And so I think that's what we could find there. And I think there are some cyanobacteria that fit that category. And then like that these micro fossils that they thought were in this meteorite, those were magnetotactic bacteria. So if they were true, that they were fossils, and maybe we could find that there.
And since Mars did have a magnetic field, it's not totally out of the question that they could have used to. Interesting. Yeah. And there's a lot of iron there, so it's another possibility. Jude Kiddie wants to know, what colors is Sky on Mars? Are there long sunsets or does it switch to dark quickly?
And can you see Earth from Mars? Okay, so the color of Mars, the color of the Sky on Mars is like a butter scotch color. Woo! Yeah. Which we know, like from taking pictures and stuff of Mars. So there's a lot of like dust in the atmosphere So it's dimmer. It's like way further from the Sun than Earth is so it's dimmer
But there it's still sunlight, but it's just darker and so you think and the days are about the same length So I guess in a way it gets darker quicker, but only because there's less light to begin with maybe yeah But then though it dust interacts with the atmosphere and the sunlight differently than it does on Earth darker quicker, but only because there's less light to begin with, maybe. Ooh. Yeah. But then the dust interacts with the atmosphere and the sunlight differently than it does on Earth, because it's just like a super iron rich dust. And so I think that's why it's like a more butter scotch color than here we have like this blue color. What is one thing about Mars that people don't know that would really flabbergast them?
Just how wet it used to be, people often asked me like, is it true that we found water on Mars and I'm like, yeah, we found that, like a million times already. But that's the thing that they're often blown away by, right? But I think it's just still, for some reason, not common knowledge yet, that Mars used to be this like awesome place that was like not as cold and dry as it is now, but it's like wet and... Just lush pools and spas. Yeah, maybe. Maybe.
Slimey, maybe. Well, I was just thinking like, you said the lush and I thought of like plants, but like, in actually, if there was any life that would probably be like, microbes, it was like, slimey. Yeah. That's okay, too.
What's your favorite thing about Mars or your job surrounding Mars? I love that I can be paid to think about another planet and what it used to be like and what we could have been like and just these like crazy questions that are you know really removed from the day to day but that like that's my job. you know, really remove from the day to day, but that's my job. Like, because I could have a really practical job, but I instead get to do this really out of this world thing.
Literally. And it's like a really cool to be part of these teams. And any advice to anyone who's like, I wanna work on Mars? Yeah, there's so many ways to get involved with Mars stuff. And like one great thing about NASA is that all of our data that we get is publicly available.
You can, anybody with the internet can go on the internet and look at like dope pictures of Mars for free download data that Rover got. Like anybody can have the same data that the scientists who work at NASA have. So you can literally just become, you can just do that on your own and you can go to like seminars and stuff and meet people and read books, like there's tons of podcasts and stuff like that. There's
like a million ways to get involved with NASA stuff and there's lots of NASA outreach that is like pretty accessible, I think to most people. Thank you so much for being on. Thank you. I was so excited. Thanks for caring about Mars. Dude, I do care about Mars. I love Mars even more now. Great.
Hi! It worked. So there you have it. I am so much more about Mars than I was before meeting the amazing Dr. Jennifer Boose. And her website, What a Destination on this World Wide Web. It features self-portraits of her as a turtle with octopus hair. It's gorgeously perfect.
It's J-N-N-F-R dot BZ. So it's her name, No Vals. Now you can find allergies on Instagram or Twitter. I'm on both at Alley Ward with 1L. And if you want more smologies, you can find them at alliward.com slash smallages. There are tons of episodes. They're all kids safe, classroom safe, with experts. We are at AlliGs on Instagram and Twitter.
I'm at AlliWord with 1L on both. Thank you, Zechrad Registamus, Jared Sleeper of Mind Jam Media and Mercedes-Mateland of Mateland Audio for working on these. We like to keep these small and short, so you'll find a whole list of credits in the show notes. Thank you for listening and pass them on. Okay, bye bye.I'm just a lonely, lonely, lonely