Olympus Mons and our ‘life on Mars’ obsession 5 March 2009Posted by admin in geoscience, Mars, solar system.
Tags: Mars, Olympus Mons, science reporting
Over the past 24 hours quite a few stories have appeared in the media about a paper in the journal Geology on Olympus Mons, the giant Martian volcano. Can you spot what they have in common?
- Mars life? Computer analysis hints at water – and life – under Olympus Mons (ScienceDaily)
- Martian volcano could harbor primitive life (Fox News)
- Martian volcano could be reservoir for life (Wired)
- Where would Martian life hang out? Under a giant volcano, naturally (Discover Magazine)
- Martian volcano could harbour hot underground pondlife (The Register)
- Martian mountain may answer big question (World Science)
Here’s a hint: the ‘big question’ in the last headline is ‘whether the Red Planet had – or still supports – life’. Life on Mars is clearly what the Geology paper is all about.
It isn’t, of course. The paper concerned, Patrick K. McGovern & Julia K. Morgan, ‘Volcanic spreading and lateral variations in the structure of Olympus Mons, Mars’ (discussed here at The Volcanism Blog three weeks ago) is, as its title indicates, about the geology of Olympus Mons – specifically, why the volcano is the shape it is. The ‘big question’ of life gets a mention in the final paragraph.
An implication of the paper’s thesis – that Olympus Mons is underlain by clay sediments – is that there might be a reservoir of water beneath the volcano in which conditions suitable for thermophilic life might have been maintained. They only mention it in passing.
I suppose it’s understandable that Martian life is always going to have a higher media profile than Martian sedimentary geology. Is that healthy for science, though? And is there a danger that our Martian discoveries are always going to be viewed through the distorting lens of our ‘life on Mars’ obsession?
- Patrick K. McGovern & Julia K. Morgan, ‘Volcanic spreading and lateral variations in the structure of Olympus Mons, Mars’, Geology, vol. 37, no. 2 (February 2009), pp. 139-142. [Link to abstract only]