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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

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NASA confirms flowing water present on Mars


Earlier this week, NASA confirmed that flowing water is present on Mars, setting the public’s fascination with extra terrestrial science ablaze once again.

This discovery is only a step forward for scientists, however. Several professors at UH reflected upon this finding and its impact on the way the public views NASA.

Edgar Bering III, a professor of physics and electrical and computer engineering, said he believes that this discovery is overrated and that it is not the first time NASA has overstated a discovery.

“Most of us in the field realize it’s a standard NASA way to do things,” Bering said.

“When they have something that they want to talk about that the public might be interested in, they talk about it. They have always overstated it. If they did not, the public will not pay attention. It is their job.”

Each planet has a NASA field office and Bering believes that the Mars office is competing for media attention versus the Pluto office, explaining the media uproar over this discovery.

“I think that the hype is coming from the Mars office, which feels ignored,” Bering said.

“The weekly Pluto data reports are killing it. The people in that office are doing a fabulous job. They might not even be consciously competing, just trying to send out the best hype. It is just what a professional would do.”

The specific report found that water was present on Mars for thousands of years and that some transient gullies change with the seasons. This has already changed the public perspective on Mars travel and Mars exploration.

Qi Fu is an assistant professor of organic geochemistry, astrobiology and isotope geochemistry. He has been teaching at the university for three years and said he believes that the discovery of water can affect his field of organic chemistry.

“With running water organic compounds and biological activities are possible,” Fu said. “People can think other possibilities are possible. We have not had definite evidence to support organic materials but I think with this discovery it is more possible.”

Associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences Thomas Lapen has studied several Martian meteorites and said that there were clues to pointing to this discovery for over a decade.

“Studying meteorites can shed light to the processes in the planet indirectly,” Lapen said.

“We have found very early weathering on these meteorites, suggesting water flow. This was over 14 years ago.”

Despite the overstatements, Bering recognizes the importance of finding concrete evidence of running water on Mars, either on the surface of subsurface of the planet.

“This discovery (is) now a certainty,” Bering said. “We could take it to a court of law and not a court of scientists. It is the final piece of evidence to make the case incontrovertible. Science is very incremental, which is why most discoveries aren’t worthy of media hype.”

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