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Scientists Attempt to Answer Mars Water Question

NSF Award:

CAREER: Advancing Simulation Methods for Long Time-Scale Chemical and Biological Events  (Louisiana State University & Agricultural and Mechanical College)

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For over a century, various investigations have searched for life on Mars. Searching for the presence of water molecules is especially central to the determination of whether life is (or was) possible on Mars. Water molecules were recently found in a massive water ice structure at the southern mid-latitudes of Mars. However, it is still unclear whether more water molecules await discovery. Bin Chen and his colleagues at Louisiana State University are attempting to answer this question.

Results from Chen's computer simulations suggest that previously reported carbon dioxide glaciers on Mars could also be water-bearing structures. Simulations that combine carbon dioxide, water and methane sets found that these three species can mingle to form a single cluster of water. Surprisingly, these clusters generally display a common "core-shell structure."  In this structure, water molecules form a tightly-bound central core, which is contained inside a carbon dioxide/methane shell. Chen's group continues to conduct computer simulations to determine how and why the water molecules gather together to form a large solid in the center of the structure. 

In addition to posing possible solutions to Mars's water question, Chen's research also has important implications for atmospheric aerosol formation. This poorly understood component of global warming may assist in understanding how clouds form. This particle formation work is also necessary in fields such as medicine, chemical processing and environmental science.

Image

  • Photo of Mars
The planet Mars
© 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation
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