May 4, 2012
Evidence Of Ancient Water Discovered At Mars Crater
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity discovered evidence of ancient water at the rim of an ancient impact crater on the planet's surface, according to a new report published in the May 4 edition of the journal Science.
The rover, which completed its original three-month mission eight years ago and reached the 4 billion year old Endeavour crater last summer, found evidence that the impact that had originally created the crater released heated, underground water that had deposited zinc into rock fragments found around the rim.
Afterwards, following the collision, cooler water flowed through cracks in the ground near the crater's edge and deposited veins of the mineral gypsum, the US space agency said in a Thursday press release.
"These bright mineral veins are different from anything seen previously on Mars, and they tell a clear story of water flowing through cracks in the rocks," Steve Squyres of Cornell University, lead author of the new report and the principal investigator for the Opportunity mission, said. "From landing until just before reaching the Endeavour rim, Opportunity was driving over sandstone made of sulfate grains that had been deposited by water and later blown around by the wind. These gypsum veins tell us about water that flowed through the rocks at this exact spot. It's the strongest evidence for water that we've ever seen with Opportunity."
The rover discovered evidence for low temperature liquid water and environments that would be conducive for life,” added Scott M. McLennan, Professor of Geochemistry at Stony Brook University and one of the 27 researchers behind the paper, “Ancient Impact and Aqueous Processes at Endeavour Crater, Mars," added in a statement. "If we found this on Earth there would be no question that you could find evidence of life."
According to NASA, over the past four months, Opportunity has been working at a single outcrop on the Endeavour rim. The rover is solar powered and has had limited access to daylight due to the Martian winter and accumulated dust on its solar array, which has left it without enough energy to drive. That will be changing shortly, Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas said. Callas predicts that lengthening days will allow Opportunity to resume exploration of other areas of the crater within the next two months.
"Opportunity and its rover twin, Spirit, completed their three-month prime missions on Mars in April 2004," NASA said. "Both rovers continued for years of bonus, extended missions. Both have made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life. Spirit stopped communicating in 2010."