This Week in Space 102 Transcript

Please be advised this transcript is AI-generated and may not be word for word. Time codes refer to the approximate times in the ad-supported version of the show.

00:00 - Rod Pyle (Host)
This week it's a brand new massive volcano on Mars. Pascal Lee joins us with Adites. Stay tuned. This is this Week in Space, episode Number 102, recorded on March 15th 2024. A new volcano on Mars. This episode of this Week in Space is brought to you by RocketMoney.

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Stop wasting money on things you don't use. Cancel your unwanted subscriptions by going to rocketmoneycom. That's RocketMoneycom. Rocketmoneycom. Rod Pyle, the editor-in-chief of Ad Astra Magazine. And I'm back from Ecuador, in my favorite place, with my favorite person, tarek Malik sort of editor-in-chief of spacecom, because, tarek, we're joined today once again by the Indefatigable Dr Pascal Lee, our favorite Martian explorer. Rod Pyle, the editor-in-chief of Ad Astra Magazine.

02:23 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Oh, hello, hello, hello, Pascal. Welcome back. Good to be here. Thank you Also. Welcome back, Rod. I thought you'd have more of a tan after being in Ecuador. Rod Pyle, the editor-in-chief of Ad Astra Magazine, oh my God.

02:31 - Rod Pyle (Host)
No, I look like a beekeeper. The whole time I was there I was completely swat and cloth and slathered down on sunscreen because I was warned. And it's true, equatorial sun is little on the more direct side and the only place I forgot to use sunscreen was the tops of my feet and I think I peeled off the six layers. Oh my gosh, but did you hug a Galapagos?

02:55 - Tariq Malik (Host)
turtle, while you were there, tortoise.

02:59 - Rod Pyle (Host)
No, you're not allowed to do that and they assign you a guide. So I had a personal guide the whole time I was there. So you're with a personal guide or a group, but I did see a couple of tortoises hugging each other which is something they do to make baby tortoises, and it's very, very slow.

I was hearing very white in my mind, anyway, probably more than you need to know. But yeah, the Galapagos is really cool. Not you know, it wouldn't be my prime choice for a tropical destination, because I've been to a lot of nice tropical islands, but in terms of the fauna it's incredible and I think Pascal would enjoy it because he's kind of an embedded explorer. I will simply add that I ended my trip with a tour of the Ecuadorian Navy, which doesn't take long because it's six frigate size. They're called Corbettes, but six little frigate size ships. But I'd never been on a Navy ship before. So we got piped aboard. So we're walking up this gangplank and he goes wee, and I'm thinking, oh, that sounds like a Star Trek episode. Wait, is that for us? I realize we were being piped aboard and these captains are standing at attention. I'm looking around like what is there general here? Oh, that's for us, okay, oh, nice.

04:10 - Tariq Malik (Host)
It was fun.

04:12 - Rod Pyle (Host)
So I could see the appeal. All right, but before we start, please, audience, don't forget to do us a solid, make sure to like, subscribe and so forth, because, and so forth you know what I'm going to say we need you. All right, let's get to a space joke. Here's the first one. Who's from? Loyal listener, simon, don't have a last name all the way. I'm in Switzerland. So, yeah, say hello to Switzerland, because that's further. What orbits this? Hey, tark, yes, rod, I'm out of practice. What orbits the sun and tells jokes all day? I don't know, rod, a cometion.

04:51 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
I get it, I get it that is kind of kind of that one.

04:54 - Tariq Malik (Host)
I had to think about it but it's like Comet instead of comedy.

05:00 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Okay, here's another one. This one's from me. You got to think back like being a child of the 1950s, like me, and this will make more sense. So think of all those horrible old black and white sci-fi movies. A mama, martian lands in Brooklyn, sees the jungle of television, antennas atop the tenements and cries an alarm. You kids get right down off that roof and antennas you know. Oh, okay, okay, see.

I knew you were too young. All right, pascal got it Barely Okay. Well, so Pascal reminds you of that moment. I just have to bring it up one more time because, like I can't tease Tark about falling out of his chair anymore because he fixed it, I did not.

05:48 - Tariq Malik (Host)
I haven't unpacked parts yet.

05:52 - Rod Pyle (Host)
But that moment of the Arctic, when Pascal, sitting at the head of the table where all the lonely explorers sit and spend their evening chatting with each other, and I'm unveiling my very special, made just for him, ernest Shackleton flag, and I was about to do the big moment. I'm saying because you and I, I know, we share a love of the great golden age of exploration and Ernest Shackleton and I'm just about to pull this thing out of the bag and he goes Ron, I'm not that big a fan of Shackleton, okay. Well, anyway, here's your flag. Let's move on to something else. All right, so let's begin moving on to something else. Let's do a headline Starship.

06:30 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
So I'm just going to pull the.

06:32 - Rod Pyle (Host)
I'm going to pull the rope starter on you because I know you've got the whole thing. What I have here in the notes is blah blah Elon, blah blah red. Blah, blah blah, almost block boom blah blah.

06:44 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Yeah, not, not wrong there, but it was a really big flight. No, that's probably like the biggest story of the week. You know, this week you picked a good week to come back, rod, because SpaceX launched their third ever test flight of the Starship and super heavy launch system. Now, for folks who may not recall, this is the world's biggest and most powerful rocket. It's like 400 feet tall or something or thereabouts, and SpaceX has been launching them out of their Starbase facility in, you know, south Texas, at the Boca Chica Beach. I think it's very awesome.

I encourage, if you're ever in the area, please, you know, swing by and you can get super close to the rocket. But this was like their big swing. They officially reached they keep saying they reached orbit, but they reached orbital speed. Right, and there's a difference, because if they reached orbit they could have done nothing and it would have just circled the planet for like an entire time. But really the trajectory they launched on this flight on was aimed at the Indian Ocean, so it was always going to auger in at the end, or, as their commentator called it, the Indiana Ocean, which.

07:51 - Rod Pyle (Host)
I just about fell out of my chair on that one.

07:59 - Tariq Malik (Host)
There was that, but not to diminish the feats that happened. This actually happened. As we're recording this. It happened on March 14th, so it was yesterday, so it's very, very fresh. And SpaceX, you know, we sent our reporter down days before they even had approval. They only announced that they got approval from the FAA the evening before the launch. Right, crazy.

08:20 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Well, was it their announcement or the FAA's announcement?

08:23 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Well, the FAA announced it first, I think, at like four in the afternoon, five in the afternoon, something like that.

Well, they do take their time, don't they? Yeah, well, they do need to get faster, and there's a whole OIG reporter, a special report, about how the FAA has to get faster on these things. But so SpaceX launched the rocket. We knew that they could because they've launched it twice before. This time they went higher and faster just like Gordo Cooper, you know, in the Mercury flights than ever before. They had a clean, hot fire stage separation.

We've got a video, I think of it, if we haven't showed it yet of that last 10 seconds, and it's just amazing to see this massive, massive rocket which is, you know, taller than the Empire State Building. Yeah, here's a video actually of reentry, which was another amazing fact. So they had a clean separation. They reached this orbital speed. A clean hot stage, a clean hot stage separation, yeah. And then the Starship Vehicle SN20, I think they call it Ship 28,. They had a Starlink Internet connection with the rocket through the bulk of its flight. I mean, it wasn't seamless, there were dropouts, but what we're seeing here is its actual kind of reentry approach on the way down. And what was really, really interesting if we do want to zip ahead, we can, but you see the heating from that, oh look at that, yeah, you can see it.

You can see it hit atmospheric interface and it just gets super hot and plastic. It's absolutely gorgeous. All of it in real time, as it happened, and I think this is a definite win, because they can see how the heat shield is working in action. They can see that plasma sheet that forms around it. You know, we've only seen you know fits and starts of this, like the plasma through the window of a Soyuz or a NASA space shuttle. So these are just truly unprecedented views. So are we looking nose down?

10:18 - Rod Pyle (Host)
or tail down here.

10:19 - Tariq Malik (Host)
We are looking I believe this is Towards the tail, yeah, yeah. It's towards the tail, because these are. This is a camera on the forward actuators.

10:27 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Okay, because I think down towards the tail actuators. So what I read? I was preparing a press release yesterday and had about 14 people waging with corrections and ideas, which was always fun. Look at that. Oh yeah, I see it's tail down. Yeah, I guess because it was rolling they couldn't do their their second. Yeah.

10:45 - Tariq Malik (Host)
And that's the part. There were anomalies on the flight. The ship itself was rolling a bit and because it was rolling while it was in space, they opted to not do a Raptor fire relight. So that's the engine that they're going to need to, you know, relight when they're in space to do their maneuvers and whatnot. And this is just absolutely amazing. It's really something, isn't that awesome? Stay in the steel rocket coming back to earth, and so they skipped that. Now they did successfully demonstrate the PES dispenser like payload bay, so that they can kind of eject Starlink satellites on mass.

11:19 - Rod Pyle (Host)
So would you say, they demonstrated, they opened it, but they didn't eject anything right.

11:22 - Tariq Malik (Host)
No, they didn't eject, they just they demonstrated they could open. It is what I'm trying to say. They did perform an in vehicle propellant transfer test. It's not clear how successful that was, but they were actually. They actually were able to get that, get through that stage itself and we're waiting for a little bit more detail on that but it sounds like it went pretty much as expected. But they did lose control of this vehicle on the way down and so it did burn up in earth's atmosphere over the Indian ocean after reentry. And the same thing happened to the super heavy booster which, shortly after its launch, it did, you know, it separated. It actually did a boost back burn this is a massive, massive rocket and it reentered the earth's atmosphere. And then they lost it something like 500 meters above the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico, like it broke apart, but they got almost back to the ground. So I think in terms of like a test flight you could focus on yeah, they lost the vehicles, but they were going to lose the vehicles anyway. They were going to toss them into the ocean and they got so much farther on this flight than even on the second test flight, or they reached space for the first time. I think it's a really big coup for them.

Now, as we've mentioned before and I know this kind of headline is a bit longer I'll say no right, space X has a long way to go. Right, they have to launch. I think maybe up to six or seven more of these this year is what Elon Musk said. They have to launch over a dozen just for one Artemis moon landing flight. And they have to demonstrate a lot of refueling techniques like robust ship to ship docking, that sort of thing for the future. So there's still a lot of open questions. But the rate like if they can get through this, this flight, get through the FAA kind of investigation part of it because the FAA is leading an investigation that SpaceX is over, the FAA is overseeing an investigation that SpaceX is leading, which is weird Well, they have to get through that, make whatever fixes and then they're going to, you know, try again, I suppose. So we haven't talked about live support. You know that's a pet peeve of mine. We got to talk about that too.

13:29 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Yeah, we'll just we'll put in a backpack from the dragon, everything will be fine. So, Pascal, part of what we're going to talk about today, I hope, is landing zones, but as long as we're talking about Starship, any any thoughts on this in terms of the great Martian future?

13:44 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
No, this was a really good account. The only thing I could say is that it's actually normal for the FAA to ask the craft manufacturer to conduct its investigation and then to to rubber stamp, so to speak, or, you know, coming afterwards to understand what went on and and agree that the fix was was a good fix.

14:07 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Yeah, and that's you're right that that is not a new thing, because all of the investigations have been led by SpaceX, and then they identify all the corrective actions and they, they do it. So so we'll see, we'll see. Hopefully, though, the approval process for these flights gets a bit faster and a bit clearer, because it's a lot of from an editorial standpoint, it's a lot of travel expense money to invest into sending someone out there if you don't know if they're going to launch or not. So something a little bit more than a few hours before launch would be great.

14:35 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
Were those heat shield tiles that were being shared as well.

14:38 - Tariq Malik (Host)
It's very possible that they're what we saw during the flight and I don't think we have video of this, because it was like an hour and a half long flight is is. You did see a lot of debris pop free from the vehicle. They could have been tiles themselves. They could have been something else because they looked very wispy, almost like like the, the the. What is it? The tilt? Nothing. The? The those covers that they used to put on the thrusters rod for the shuttles. That was a Tyvek.

15:06 - Rod Pyle (Host)
It's almost like they had that kind of Tyvek or Nobex or something. Yeah yeah, it had like that kind of consistency.

15:11 - Tariq Malik (Host)
We could see it during the flight. There was also a lot of what looked like venting from the ship vehicle in space and it wasn't clear if that was actual reaction control system firings or if it was a planned role maneuver or if it was something else you know, as part of like a test. So we're hoping to get a little more clarification in the future. But these, you know, these ships, pascal, they make a lot of them like right, and it's clear that they're. They're trying to do the, the bare bone vehicle to perform those test objectives, to get to what they want. You know, because I would expect during, during, uh, uh, like the actual crude ones, they're going to be a lot more like like soup to nuts lockdown for that sort of thing.

15:56 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Oh, all right. Well, let's go to a break because we have a lot to talk about and, uh, we will be right back, go nowhere, okay. So moving on to our main story, and it's a big one. And, pascal, as far as I know, we're the first non print venue to be. Well, first non print or non text venue to be talking about this, is that right?

16:18 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
Yeah, that's true. I mean, aside from the talk we gave it, uh, the conference, yes, well that's.

16:23 - Rod Pyle (Host)
That's for a special crowd, so for the public, big cheer for everybody. All hail the great explorer of Mars who has found I know this is embarrassing, yeah, that's why I enjoy it who has found a volcano, a big, whacking volcano that's been sitting in plain sight since at least 1971, when Mariner and I was imaging the planet and it was sitting there looking at earth, looking at Mariner and I, and saying, hey, I'm here, I'm a great big volcano, and somehow nobody managed to see it until you caught it. What afternoon, which is astonishing. So, if you may, if you would rather, please walk us through the process of how the hell you discovered a volcano on Mars.

17:06 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
That's not, yeah, I mean first of all, thanks for having me. This is something we reported this week the discovery of a giant volcano on Mars and I did that with a graduate student, a Surab Shubham. He's a third year grad student in the department of geology at the University of Maryland. I'm on the West Coast, he's in Maryland, but we've been collaborating for quite a while in the study of this area, mainly because, at first, this is the place that we had proposed as far back as 2015 as a possible human landing site, and so I don't know if I can show some pictures here, all right. So here's where we are on Mars.

On the far left you see the Tharsis bulge. It's a big region that rises above average Mars, and on it there are three well-known giant volcanoes that are riding on it Ascaris, mons, pavanis, mons, arcia mons. And then you head towards the east. You have this maze of fractures called Noctis labyrinthus, of which the volcano is part, but at the time it was just Noctis labyrinthus for the whole thing. And then, farther east, you have, of course, the Grand Canyon of Mars, but a thousand times larger, a hundred times deeper Well, actually, no, 10 times deeper Valis Marineris 10 times deeper than the Grand Canyon on Earth.

18:40 - Tariq Malik (Host)
That's right. That's right, sorry, yes.

18:42 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
Yes, and right there at the boundary between Noctis labyrinthus and Valis Marineris, you have a bit of a mess, lots of fractures. You don't immediately see a volcano, but you do see that there's some sort of a circular structure there and that actually, as it turns out, is the giant volcano, and the red outline is the farthest extent that we can see of the volcano. So I'll show you the next slide. I mean, this is not a formal talk, but just to point out some features here. The diameter the total diameter is a thing of is 450 kilometers, so that's 280 miles. It rises to over 9000 meters, so it's higher than Mount Everest Wow, above average Mars.

The whole region is high, though, so this is probably why one of the reasons why it was missed is because the rest of the region is at around 8000 or less meters. But this is a good kilometer above the rest of the hump on which all this rides, and it's deeply eroded, and so you don't have this nice cone shape form that other volcanoes normally have. And then, as part of the announcement but really this is what we were looking at in the first place before we saw the volcano is that there's a sheet of buried ice right there, as it turns out now, within the perimeter of the volcano, but it's a sheet of buried ice, and so I'll just want to show you this a little bit more closely. So you know, the story of our interest in this place starts with that little yellow dot surrounded by red, the noctis lending Excuse me, but a lot of people are just listening to audio.

20:37 - Rod Pyle (Host)
So what we're looking at and how is a close up of this volcano? And off to the right by about 100 kilometers is a little yellow dot, which is where your glacier is right.

20:47 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
Exactly so. What we're seeing is the perimeter of the volcano 450 kilometers across. That's the bigger circle, and there's a little red dot within that perimeter which is in a relatively low elevation region of this broader region. And this little red dot is where we had proposed back in 2015 already that humans one day really should land, because this region, strategically, is super interesting for long term human exploration. By being there, if you had east, to the right, you head into the Grand Canyon of Valus Marineris and that is going to give you a chance to look for signs of ancient life in all the rock layers of the canyon. If you drive west, you climb onto the Tharsus Plateau where all these giant volcanoes sit this is again before we found our little volcano and then you have access to the volcanoes which might still be active today. They're caves, and now you have the best possible place, we think, to find life that's still alive today on Mars. So you drive east, look for ancient life. You drive west, you look for modern life.

22:09 - Tariq Malik (Host)
And I think Pascal, sorry for interrupting, but it seems like that's the crux of all this. I mean, you found the remnants of a giant volcano. Just for people who are wondering how big 280 miles is, that's a distance from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. That's how wide this thing is that you found. But I guess that that was the big question I wanted to ask is what does it mean for that search for life? You've got this giant thing. It sounds as if there's a lot of implications in both the search for water, with this glacier, and the search for life with the, I guess, the heat that you would get, the residual heat.

22:49 - Rod Pyle (Host)
So this is winding up for the swing, for the fences. Before we get this answer, we need to go to a break this will keep everybody on the edge of their chairs, tarek, don't fall out of yours and we will be right back. Don't go anywhere for the big reveal, all right. So, pascal, you know the question, and this is something that a lot of us are going to be clutching our pearls about what might we find if there's thermal energy there?

23:15 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
Here's the thing Right now we realize that this landing site we had proposed is within the confines of a giant, very ancient volcano, but that might still be active today, because last year we found a glacier that is still probably containing ice the remains of a glacier right at that spot as well. In fact, it's because we were studying the glacier and its surroundings that we sort of started looking around a little more closely and realized that we were inside an ancient, decrepit volcano. But here's the implication for the search for life that you were bringing up this is a volcano that has been active for a very long time. So this is an area that has had heating, the source of heat, from the early days of Mars, because we think this dates back to about three and a half to 3.8 billion years, when it started as a volcano, all the way to the recent times. Because this glacier that we see, or the remains of the glacier, is actually protected by volcanic ash, and so the volcanic, the glacier has to be young. There's hardly any impact craters on it on top of that, but the volcanic blanket of it's not lava, it's pyroclastic. So you know, scoria, pumice ash, the blanket of volcanic material thin that's covering this glacier has to be super recent, and so this volcano, we think, is still active, probably not very frequently erupting, but still active.

On top of that, that's a little dark lava flow right next to the glacier, which is further evidence that this place has been erupting recently as well, because over time, these lava flows on Mars turn orange and oxidize and disappear in the landscape. This little lava flow is still very crisp. So here you have a source of heat that has been on and off active in this region for something like three and a half to almost four billion years, and there's ice. There is ice sitting there. What we're seeing and that we're calling a glacier ice Ice glacier is probably the latest glaciation remnant, but there must have been other former glaciations throughout the history of this site. You know, glaciers are made like water, ice of I mean like like they made of water, h2o. So in the context of a volcano, the ice can melt, you have liquid water, you have an environment, basically, that combines heat and water for four and a half billion years almost. So we're super excited about that?

26:03 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Yeah, I guess the follow up question I had. Maybe it's two there. But we know on Earth that these types of glaciers like this one, that you've found signs of, both the relics glacier from before and now this new one they created things like Yosemite. It's absolutely gorgeous, you know. They carve the mountains. And as I'm looking at the map of where this giant volcano is, in this noctis labyrinth which is filled with all of these canyons, I mean, are these canyons that you think were formed by the glaciers? And then the other question, and this might be a little more top of mind, because you hint at, like, the potential for actual activity now or, relatively, you know, recent activity from the volcano. What does that mean? Is it like magma underneath the ground? Is it bubbling out? You know that kind of a thing that we could find from orbit? What would we want to look for to see?

26:59 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
if it's so active? I'll answer your second question. First, there has to be a magma chamber still under this volcano. It's probably petering, petering out a bit. You know, volcanism is not as intense today as it was in the past of Mars. This, whether this place could still erupt or not, we really don't know. But I wouldn't be surprised if there were even some little hotspots here and there at this location still, although we haven't found any. In fact, we've been looking for hotspots across Mars for quite a while now and nothing jumps at you. Which, however, brings us to your other question, which is how does this tie into the rest of the canyons around?

There are two big theories about how the Noctis labyrinthus, narrow, boxy canyons form. One is that it's just tectonics. So the crust of Mars got fractured when the whole region got lifted up, pushed up from beneath, from the hot plume of mantle material pushing up underneath the crust of Mars in that region. So the crust basically cracked open and as it cracked open, giant chunks of the surface collapsed downwards and that's why you have these canyons. But the alternate theory, which has often been disfavored but which I think is the only one that makes sense and is also consistent with why this volcano is so eroded the way it is. That alternate theory is that this crust of Mars that you see here in this region is actually full of ice. It has a lot of ancient ice trapped underneath it, because a lot of these lava flows that we see are actually not lava flows, they are pyroclastic deposits, they are deposits of ash. So when volcanic ash comes and settles down onto ice, it doesn't necessarily make the ice melt away and, if anything, it preserves the ice. It's going to preserve it from vaporizing, from sublimating, from melting. And, however, when you do have eruptions taking place, like hot lava coming up with this from this magma chamber on the volcano or even in a broader region rising to the surface, it's going to melt the ice along all these crack lines where the lava is coming up from. And once the ice disappears, well, you've lost the backbone, if you will, that's holding up all these, all these, all this plateau material, and so it collapses.

So we think that what we're seeing here, when you look at Noctis labyrinthus, is not so much the result of, you know, tectonic collapse as much as melting of ice collapse or vaporizing of ice collapse. So the volcano itself. You really cannot explain its shape by just tectonics. Yeah, so, at the very least, when it comes to the volcano itself, we think that the reason why it's all chewed up as it is now is because it actually was a wedding cake of ash, a few lavas and mostly ice ice from glaciers, glaciation. The volcano itself puts out a lot of water, which then condenses onto the surface into an ice cover. We see that in Antarctica today, still so. Then, when it's when it gets heated from underneath, giant chunks, giant chunks of this volcano basically collapse because the ice goes away and there's no more strength to it, and so that's why we think this thing looks so, so beat up.

30:36 - Rod Pyle (Host)
So where you have volcanoes and magma and collapses and all that kind of stuff, you have heat and where you have heat and possibly protect the areas like lava tubes and caves and caverns and so forth you might have, you might have like.

30:54 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Critters, oh yes, it might have life.

30:58 - Rod Pyle (Host)
And we'd like to find critters and critters, the aliens from the 1980s horror sci-fi movies. We've got a rover driving around taking samples of what is probably incredibly sterilized soil that's been sitting out in the sun, spewing radiation, for the last, however many billion years. But here you might have something a little different to explore.

31:18 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
Well, you know, we're not exactly sure in what form we would find life. To me, the most important quest is to actually look for life that might still be alive today, and so, if you know, if you go into the canyons and you find an ancient rock layer with life in it, okay, great. But fundamentally, you you still don't know if it's alien life. It could have been life that was started on earth, got exported to Mars by you know, like we have meteorites from Mars ourselves and and so Mars could have been seeded by Earth life, and so, therefore, finding life on Mars in fossil form, you couldn't tell. Is it Earth life that got exported to Mars or is it really life that started on its own on Mars?

31:58 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Because fossilized DNA doesn't tell you anything.

32:00 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
That's right, you cannot do genetics on fossil life. I mean, even if it looks weird as a critter that that's not a true sign that it's alien. I mean, look at how diverse life on Earth is.

32:11 - Rod Pyle (Host)
So, however, Whoa, whoa, I couldn't resist, Wow, okay.

32:21 - Tariq Malik (Host)
I'm going to talk about.

32:23 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Mars man. Well, I was going to impugn myself, but I thought, okay, sorry, pascal, go ahead.

32:29 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
No, that was a fun line. But if you, if you, if you're really intent on finding something that you could at the same time determine whether it's alien or not, you want to find it alive, because that's the only way you can do genetics on it and biochemistry. If it uses the same amino acids as life on Earth, you want to see if it uses DNA or something that at least has DNA structure. I mean, if you can tie it, if you can really show that it really comes from an independent branch of life as opposed to all Earth life which is related genetically and uses the same amino acids for their proteins, then you have really found alien life. So so this whole business of looking for life on Mars, we don't say it enough. I think we're looking for alien life on Mars Because that's that's the big question, right? If you, if you find an alien form of life on Mars, then you can say, ok, life is common in the universe. If it's just Earth life exported, you're not really further down the road on that, on that question, by being at a volcanic site that might still be active today, with ice that might still be preserved from the latest eruption, which is and this ice is sandwiched between volcanic flows, older ones and this recent blanket of ash, you have, in my view, a real good chance of finding life that might still be alive on Mars and then do genetics on it and then figuring out if you found alien life.

You know as much as I was attracted to going to this place even before we found a volcano there. Now that it's right there at our landing site, I mean, you know we went there so that we could drive to the volcano, but the volcano basically drove itself to us. Here you have a super exciting place to explore. And then the other thing is, let's say, you're not even interested in search for life, but you just want to understand the geologic evolution of Mars. If you go, if you went to any of these other giant beautiful, you know much less eroded volcanoes all you have access to is their outer layers, the latest lava flows. You don't have access to the inside of the volcano. I mean, even if you go into a cave, these caves are right at the surface of the volcano. They're not, you know, all the way down into the inside.

34:48 - Rod Pyle (Host)
And so excuse me, but before we erupt onto our next question, sorry Pascal, but we got to go to the break. It'll only take a moment, go nowhere, okay. So Tark to you, buddy.

34:59 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Yeah, so. So, Pascal, this is amazing and I'm you know, the it's clear you have a passion for this place, Noctis, Landing as a landing site for for future exploration, especially now with this giant volcano. I'm, I'm curious, given how tantalizing you have made not just this volcano, but volcanoes on Mars in general. Right, you pointed out the Tharsus chain of giant volcanoes. We know that Olympus Mons is the biggest volcano in the solar system and and, of course, on Mars as well. And I am wondering, you know, since we've had images of this region, in particular since Mariner 9 in 1971, since we've been looking at these, these volcanoes of Mars? You know, since we started imaging Mars, you know, way back when, why we haven't landed there yet, right, I mean, like the, the, the Mars rovers, a spirit and opportunity landed in Meridae, Planum and Goose of Crater, and and where is Perseverance now? Is that is that is?

36:02 - Rod Pyle (Host)
that that's not Jezero. Jezero is curiosity, right, so Perseverance is the other one. No, Jezero is Perseverance, Jezero is curiosity. There we go, Because places like this scare engineers is is is my contention.

36:15 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Oh, but I mean it just well, yeah. I mean, is it difficult to land at this place, like how much more than say where we've seen the other ones go before it would?

36:26 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
have been in the past. The reason why the most spectacular country on Mars the canyon lands and the volcano lands have not been explored by landers yet is because, when it comes to the canyon lands, the landing error ellipse. The uncertainty that you have on your landing spot was too big in the past, and so we couldn't really pinpoint a landing spot on Mars, and so if you're aiming for the canyons, you might end up at the top of the canyons as opposed to the bottom or somewhere on the way.

It's too risky. And then the volcanoes were off limits too, because they're too high in altitude, and so to land on Mars, as you know, you have to. There's a whole sequence of things that have to happen, for you to slow down For the parachutes.

37:08 - Tariq Malik (Host)
too high in altitude for the parachute.

37:10 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
Oh, not enough time for the parachutes to slow you down and for the retro rockets to take over, so you would slam into the surface if you land too high. The human landing site we picked is there because, in 2015, when NASA had this historic workshop for people to propose human landing sites, the constraints that we were given was thou shall not land above two kilometers of altitude, but below that, thou is okay, okay. Well, this place, where that dot on our map is where we propose to land humans, is actually well below two kilometers, is that? It's at about one point, two kilometers of elevation. You could land there, and you could land there today, now, with a robotic spacecraft.

So that's my current mission in life is to try to get on. Next exploring mission to Mars, not a sample return, but an exploring mission to Mars, to go to this location, because I think that JPL would have the tech, know how to do a pinpoint landing on Mars. I mean, it's still a pretty broad area that you could target, so right, but you could. You could really get to that spot and then, you know, drive into the volcano, which is they do dare mighty things there, I've heard right.

38:30 - Rod Pyle (Host)
So it's interesting. You bring this up because I mean you've been landing site selection conferences, of number of them. I'm sure I went to one, basically, but it was so from a journalist. You know this passion, third person journalist standpoint. It was so interesting. So I think there was probably 80 people in the room. Leonard David was there too, tark, but there's probably 80 people in that room.

So there's the engineers who say give me a nice flat basaltic plane with nothing on it to land, to land my rover in this. At this point I don't know what the landing ellipse is, three or four kilometers or something, maybe 10. And then the geologists are sort of saying no, give us something interesting, you know, give us some strata or something we can go look at, because sitting on a flat basaltic plane gives us nothing. The biologists, exobiologists, if you have any you're saying well, can you give us somewhere where we might be able to find anything, and so on. So to watch these different forces, like watching an oscilloscope with a little point in the middle. For those of you, tark's age oscilloscope CRT display. I know what oscilloscopes are. We used to experiment with that's because, you want the outer limits Right.

So you see this point moving off the center on these different vectors and it's like, well, all these forces are pulling in different directions. So what you're you're talking from a geologist and, to some extent, exobiologists stand point of. Look, this place is interesting. We've known it was an interesting since Mariner 9. And you know, this is our big chance to probably go, arguably, to the most interesting place anywhere on Mars.

40:06 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
Yeah, and of course it cannot be coming just from me, because obviously I'm too close to this to have an objective.

40:16 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Okay, we'll support you. That will swing it. That will swing it over the, over the border. Okay.

40:21 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
Here's the thing about landing site selection. I actually have not attended any Mars robotic mission landing site meetings, right.

40:29 - Rod Pyle (Host)
I was. I was including the human landing site one, but yeah because?

40:32 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
because I think that when it comes to robotic missions, there was a phase where going anywhere on Mars is all good and we had so much to learn about the planet, surface chemistry, its conditions. But, you know, landing safely somewhere, even somewhat boring scientifically, was okay because you could still learn a lot about Mars, right. But at this point I think that you know, to really make a robotic mission worthy, it obviously should go to a place that's scientifically compelling, but also it should really pave the way for humans. You know I tend to think long term and strategy, and to me what has been really exciting is to look at where we would set up a base for humans. I mean, I'm not big personally on, you know, settlement and colonizing Mars. That's, you know, I tend to think of Mars as future, at least for quite a while is a bit like Antarctica, where we might have a research base. But if we were to set up, like, say you know, a US led international base at the surface of Mars, where would that be? And the reason why we would do that is because that's the best thing to do for long term Mars exploration. You want an infrastructure on site and then from there you fan out to all the corners of Mars you like with local vehicles. That's how we are so strong in Antarctica. We have a base somewhere. That's not particularly exciting Although it is exciting McMurdo is near volcano, et cetera but you really have the base and then all the aircraft and the mobility systems to get you around.

So so to me, strategically, as a scientist, I really it's not one or two missions to Mars, it's going to find life, necessarily, or really give you, get to the bottom of all these questions we have about the geology. You really have to set up shop there and explore long term. And so where would you do that? And that is why I've been so obsessed by getting us to volcano country and Canyon country, because that's where you have the richest record Of stuff happening on Mars. And so this is, like you said, the rod, it's, it's just a gift. My first, my first reaction, when I realized with Surab, that we were inside a giant volcano, wasn't you know what implication it would have for Mars history which, of course, is sort of the underlying question but which is wow, there's no else there was. There's really nowhere else we can possibly want to go now and set up a base. If, if you know, if we, if we didn't do it here.

43:18 - Rod Pyle (Host)
So let's just go back for a second, if you don't mind, about the hiding in plain sight thing, because of course the popular media has been picking up on that like crazy and every other headline is. It's been there all the time, which I think you know from from my viewpoint as a media guy, this is a real gift to Pascal, because it's not, it's not being portrayed as just another. Oh, they found, you know another small mountain on Mars. How exciting you on it's. It's fun, you know, and they're the, the press, and I'm guilty of this too we're sort of grooving on the fact that it was there and it's like you know a dinosaur bone sticking out of the of your driveway and nobody saw it till you did right. So can you talk a little?

44:03 - Tariq Malik (Host)
bit more. Or that king, that king they found in a parking lot, right, Isn't that? The, the, the the kings.

44:08 - Rod Pyle (Host)
But you know, this is a big feature and I get that it's eroded and really beaten up and so you have to kind of you know. If so, from my, my 27 inch screen right now, if I roll back about six feet in the room and squint my eyes, it's like oh, oh, look, it's a circle. But you know, and you told me earlier, before we got in the air, that you, you know, I had assumed that while I was watching you spend hours and hours and hours and hours going over orbital Mars photographs up on Devon, that you were looking for this, and you corrected me and said nah, it was an afternoon which was even a better story than it said. So can you kind of walk us through that part?

44:49 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
Well, you know, to be fair, this thing, as big as it is, does not look like other volcanoes on Mars of that size. The you know things that are big volcanoes on Mars look pretty well preserved compared to this, and so you'll. You know your. When your eye gets trained to look for things that you know, you become familiar with Right. So if you were looking for a giant volcano, you would look for something that looks like what's what's known as a giant volcano, and you wouldn't see this as a giant volcano.

This, on the other hand, is to be fair as well is is almost welded and seamlessly connected to a fracture zone that is volcanic in original material, but where we don't see immediate volcanoes not this size as well, and so it's also blurred, if you will, by being connected to noxious labyrinths to the west Right, and then there's actually a big chunk of this volcano that's entirely missing. I mean, it's not like you even have remnants that are recognizable. That's the eastern part of this giant circle. That is all gone. You wrote it away, and that's the part that connects to Valles Marineris. So now you're distracted by Valles Marineris starting. So it's interesting.

46:12 - Rod Pyle (Host)
You mentioned that because, looking at this, at this shot, we've had up one kind of wonders okay, so is this draining into and part of the formation for Valles Marineris, or is it moving the other way? Can you walk us through?

46:26 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
that. Yeah, valles Marineris has a long, complicated history, but it's probably and I agree with that a fundamentally a tectonic giant crack in the crust of Mars in the first place. So you start with fractured, weakened terrain. But then I think another thing that happened in Valles Marineris is that at different times it was filled with ice and water, and one of the most underestimated agents of shaping the surface of Mars and its history is ice. We don't see ice a lot anymore because it's not stable at the surface when the atmosphere is so thin. But there must have been times in the past of Mars where the atmosphere was somewhat thicker and thick enough to allow snow to linger and ice to form and glaciers to do their work.

I actually don't really subscribe to the early Mars being wet and warm. You know general theory, because I think Mars has never really had a balmy, warm climate with oceans slushing around. I don't see that at all. A lot of the analogs that have been attributed to liquid water flowing at the surface of Mars we find analogs for that in the Arctic, on Devon Island, for example, and they form also those types of features under completely glacial conditions. So you know, making Mars warm early in its history is actually very difficult to do from even an astronomical evolution standpoint. The sun at the time was 25% dimmer than it is today, and meanwhile Mars was as far from the sun as it is today. So it's a super challenge for climate modelers to come up with this early Mars that was wet and warm that everybody talks about. But meanwhile we see signs of glacial erosion all across Mars, including along Valles Marineris, the giant canyon. A lot of these little tributary valleys that you see were not carved by water liquid water but probably by glaciers. Can I ask you a?

48:33 - Tariq Malik (Host)
quick pass, gal, just because what you've been describing what it's like, what it looks like and whatnot is really, you know, sparking an image in my mind. I'm trying to understand if I was here at this landing site for this volcano, if I would even know, just from looking around, that I'm standing on a volcano, you know, or a giant volcano, because I think about Yellowstone, for example, which we know is a super volcano, you know, in the US. But you know, when I was there as a kid, it didn't look anything like what you would expect a super volcano called there to look like. I mean, would astronauts even recognize from their surroundings they were on one there? Or just because it is so different than say, you know, tharsus or whatnot, in terms of the formation? Or would it just look like more Mars, you know, with some hills in the background, like we've seen from?

49:29 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
the rovers in themselves, you would know that you are in a volcanic setting, and here's why, when you land there, obviously you will find scattered blocks of volcanic rocks. But we see that in most places on Mars and you never know if the rocks really come from here or whether they were tossed over here by some remote impact somewhere else on Mars. So I mean, you know, as you pick up a rock, it's volcanic, but it could be from a very distant location. It's ejecta meteorite impact, ejecta from somewhere else. But by landing here you will quickly run into bedrock, like rock that hasn't traveled. It was not thrown out by some remote impact, it's from here and that bedrock is volcanic.

We can see the lava flow, for example, that very dark lava flow right next to the glacier. That is volcanic rock. You would therefore know that there's got to be a source for this lava somewhere and obviously, by going to Mars and landing here, you would have been trained in the hypothesis that this could be a giant volcano and you would start looking around and I think in the road cuts of the cliffs that are exposed here, you would see the volcanic layers very well. You would see the lava flows. You might even see some lava tubes exposed along the cliffs, which are hard to tell from here because we're looking straight down into this landscape. We don't see lava skylights, lava tube entrances on the preserved surfaces of the volcano here, but you could see hanging lava tube entrances along the cliffs. That would be spectacular.

51:16 - Rod Pyle (Host)
That's where we look for the eight-legged thoats. I think, or were they six, I can't remember Six. They were six.

51:21 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Okay, so thank you.

51:23 - Rod Pyle (Host)
So we're into the lightning round here because we're coming up on the hour. So my two remaining questions. Actually, there's three First steps for publishing getting scholarly reaction, pushbacks, bruised egos in the community, whatever what happens next. And then, of course, are we going to be able to name this region, Pascal's Peak, which is my pick?

51:48 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
We haven't had pushback from our reporting of the glacier last year. I haven't had pushback, in spite of how fast the news of this giant volcano has gone around. I have not received any pushback from colleagues and peers. That doesn't validate necessarily what we're hypothesizing here, but we are working on a period of publication or we're trying to submit on a fast track that will spell out what we think we're looking at here. And then the hope as well is that Who'll be followed up by other people looking into all these areas with their own expertise is, you know, volcanologists, which I'm not, tech tonists, which I'm not, etc. So you know, and ultimately I wouldn't be surprised if this was a real contender. I mean, there are some things that are working against going there.

It's pretty high altitude still. We, for example, what would be ideal in my little world is if we could fly a helicopter with JPL Be fear helicopter around, because that's really the way to explore this place, to fly around it and land and collect samples or examine things up close. And it's pretty high to fly helicopter. And even if we could fly helicopter, how much payload could it carry? It? We're really in thin air here at these altitudes, but it's still the lowest altitude giant volcano. We could possibly explore Mars right.

53:26 - Tariq Malik (Host)
So well, you ever heard it. You heard it here. Folks pile picks. Pascal speak for the. From the naming for this place.

53:32 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
No, no, in fact we submitted a name that's pretty mundane. Noctis Mons in, you know, celebration of noctis labyrinthus, right next door, which means the mountain of the night. Noctis labyrinthus means the labyrinth.

53:46 - Rod Pyle (Host)
That's pretty cool, but I was really hoping that you named after dear departed King Kong. Yeah, no, that's former dog.

53:53 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
You know things might get named afterwards of you know, like specific features, like a Mesa. You know why not name one of these peaks, the King Kong peak.

54:04 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Why is thinking piles kids for a lot of it? Do you buy that?

54:09 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
piles yeah, piles pits, piles, piles bottoms yeah.

54:16 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Oh, tarek's enjoying this because he's getting revenge without even having to work for it. All right, well on that you have anything you'd like to add, sir.

54:27 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
I'm just very grateful for having a chance to discuss this. It was a team effort between me and the Surab, but also other people we've consulted along the way. I'm very grateful. The data I mean you know we came here with all these data sets Ready for us to use made public with the beautiful tools like ASU's Mars quick map and NASA aims is in JPL's NASA Mars Trek, not to mention Google Mars, which actually was helpful too. We have all these tools ready for us to use and it it's. It's really riding on the shoulders of a lot of hard work from a lot of people.

55:09 - Rod Pyle (Host)
So well, I know that the the ever present John Scott also helped you with the Glacier.

55:15 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
Yeah, so yeah, see, yeah, he has been the chief field guide of Anzmett, the, the search for meteorites in Antarctica, for so many years and Still is 30, 34, right 35 now. Yeah, exactly, and so he actually has a glacier named after him in Antarctica. But on Mars we don't name things after people who are still alive, so there's a price to pay to get something named for you.

55:39 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Oh, no she is here. Here, I was just hoping for a tardio, fat, tardigrade. Well, I want to thank everybody, and especially you, pascal, for joining us for episode 102. Is that right? Yes, one or two? Right, I think so. Yeah, I think so.

Awake, okay, good, always awake for the streaming premiere I'll case it that way of dr Lee's new discovery of a massive volcano on my giant volcano on Mars, which is gonna be the name of my new anime series. This has really been cool. So, pascal, take a bow. We all doff our hats to you. This is really a wonderful moment and something that you've deserved for a long time. For the more mundane among us, please don't forget to check out space calm, the websites in the name, and the National Space Society and SS at nssorg. Both are good places to satisfy your spaceflight cravings. And, I will add, there's a great story about this reveal in on spacecom by Leonard David, and in the next issue of adaster magazine, which you should all be reading, dr Lee will will have a story on On this, this discovery which, pascal, I'm waiting for. So, as, speaking to Pascal, where's the best place for us to track your exciting exploration and discoveries as we move ahead from their angry red planet?

57:00 - Dr. Pascal Lee (Guest)
Publications. Probably I give talks. I have a YouTube channel where I share stuff that's exciting. Twitter Twitter that's where I share most of my news. It's pretty much the only social media that I Medium, that I use Twitter and LinkedIn. Oh yeah, feel free to connect and I'm happy to To share all the news.

57:22 - Tariq Malik (Host)

57:24 - Rod Pyle (Host)
That's right. Someday we'll stop calling it Twitter, even though X is ridiculous. And, tariq, where can we find you no longer falling out of your gaming chair?

57:31 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Well, as always, you can find me at space calm tracking. Wait whatever is new in space? Not a lot of launches planned for this weekend, so I'm looking forward to, hopefully, some rest and relaxation, and if you're looking for a fun video about the link about Pluto and Cerberus, you can find that at my YouTube channel, space drawn plays. That was a lot of fun to put together.

57:51 - Rod Pyle (Host)
So wait, wait, wait. This is your, this is your bit your twitch video channel, right? Yes?

57:57 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Yes, and you know Twitter, no, youtube, youtube.

57:59 - Rod Pyle (Host)
I don't have Twitch, so I mean, but this is your gaming channel and you're putting stuff about Pluto on there.

58:06 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Yeah, because there's a character called Cerberus in the new battle pass. How could I know? That, so we're gonna play games all day and listen to the last episode, where I told everyone that I was gonna play about it.

58:17 - Rod Pyle (Host)
I did, but I I was laughing so hard. By the time you got to that point I couldn't remember what it was. All right, and of course you can find me at pilebookscom or at astro magazinecom. Don't forget to drop us a line at twist at twittv. That's TWIS at twittv. We welcome your comment, suggestions, ideas and insults, as long as you aim them at that. So I'm gonna say I'm back. I've been holding this there for two weeks. How can I help myself? I love you, dear New episodes published every Friday and your favorite pod catcher.

So make sure to subscribe, tell your friends and give us reviews. We'll take whatever format you want to give us, as long as it's five stars or Golden globes or golf clubs or whatever. Also, don't forget, you can get all the great programming on the twit network at free, on club twit, as well, as some extras are only available here for just seven dollars a month, or I think it's two, ninety nine per show. You've heard Leo talk about this. We want to keep bringing you the best shows we can, and to do that we need your help. So think of it as NPR or public television. We're bringing you the best stuff. I mean, look at today. Look at today, we had the big Mars explorer himself here. You can't get that for seven bucks anywhere else, so, um, yeah, jump in, step up, be counted. You can also follow the twit tech podcast network at twit on Twitter X and on Facebook and twit TV on Instagram. Thanks, everybody, and we'll see you next week. You.


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