July 2, 2009

Study: Mars imitates Earth in many ways

U.S. scientists say data from the Phoenix Mars Lander suggests parts of Mars resemble Earth, including landscape, history of water and weather conditions.

Professor Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University has been involved with Mars missions for years and he says NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander -- which touched down in May 2008 -- keeps revealing secrets about the planet.

Phoenix landed in a place that has access to Martian ice, which is exciting by itself, Lemmon said. Phoenix was designed to verify and investigate subsurface ice, and it found it almost instantly. The entire area where it landed has water ice just a few inches under the soil. The area is cold now, but it has been warmer in the past.

Lemmon said the soil analyzed by the NASA lander has a potential energy source and oxygen source for life on Mars, noting traces of calcite were also found, which shows a presence of liquid water at some time in the past.

Phoenix also found weather patterns similar to those on Earth, even including small snowflakes, which leads scientists to believe snowfall on Mars was once a common occurrence.

To sum it up, we found a place on Mars that is similar to cold, dry environments on Earth, and those environments are capable of supporting life, Lemmon said.

The research is reported in Science magazine.