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Evidence Of Non-Acidic Water Discovered By Mars Rover Opportunity

June 9, 2013
Image Caption: The pale rock in the upper center of this image, about the size of a human forearm, includes a target called "Esperance," which was inspected by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. Data from the rover's alpha particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS) indicate that Esperance's composition is higher in aluminum and silica, and lower in calcium and iron, than other rocks Opportunity has examined in more than nine years on Mars. Preliminary interpretation points to clay mineral content due to intensive alteration by water. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell / Arizona State University

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

NASA´s Opportunity rover has discovered new evidence that Mars was once a planet capable of supporting life — a rock which appears to be rich in clays formed in non-acidic water, the US space agency announced Friday.

According to Kenneth Chang of the New York Times, the rock discovered by the older of the two currently operational Mars rovers is approximately the size of a human forearm.

The rover used its X-ray spectrometer and microscopic imager to examine the rock, which is located in the Cape York region of Mars and has been dubbed “Esperance,” Amina Khan of the Los Angeles Times added.

Mission scientists discovered that it contains copious amounts of aluminum, calcium and magnesium, Chang noted. Based on the presence of those elements, NASA officials believe that the rock could be “very rich” in clay minerals, which formed as a result of water flowing over volcanic rocks.

The New York Times reported that the agency believes that the rock´s discovery “adds to the portrait of the planet as one that once — in its youth, more than three and a half billion years ago — was a water-rich world with conditions amenable for life.”

In fact, Khan went so far as to say that the rock might be “the strongest signs for water” yet discovered by Opportunity, adding that it is “a far cry from many of the previous findings on Martian moisture.”

“We run around talking about ‘water on Mars, water on Mars’ — in fact, what Opportunity has mostly discovered evidence for in the past was sulfuric acid on Mars,” added Cornell University´s Steve Squyres. “What we have here is a very different chemistry“¦ This was water you could drink.”

The discovery of Esperance´s elemental composition and low acidity, both of which suggest that conditions on Mars were once potentially friendly for life, supports similar results recently obtained by NASA´s newer rover, Curiosity. According to Khan, Curiosity uncovered clay minerals while drilling in Gale Crater — minerals that were also rich in the chemical ingredients necessary to support life on the Red Planet.

Opportunity will now travel south along the rim of Endeavour Crater, en route to “an exposed stack of rock that may provide more clues about Mars’ transition from a warm and wet world to the cold, dry, acidic desert that exists today,” said Irene Klotz of Reuters. NASA is hoping that the rover will reach its destination by August 1, before the start of the Martian winter in the planet´s southern hemisphere.


Source: redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online



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