Mar 03, 2004

Mars Had Enough Water for Life, NASA Says

It's official. NASA announced that parts of Mars once in fact contained so much water that life could have existed there. Opportunity, the robot explorer on Mars, landed on a flat Meridiani Planum near the planet's equator. It has been studying finely layered bedrock in the crater's wall.

Scientists have been intrigued by the discovery of a gray shiny mineral called hematite, which on Earth is formed in water. The scientists said the hematite, the blueberries and the heavy salt content of the area all add up to one conclusion -- salt water. "We have concluded the rocks here were once soaked with liquid water," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who leads the scientific investigation.

The hematites and "blueberries," small round balls, that were found may have been formed by water percolating through layers of volcanic ash, he said. It remains uncertain as to whether or not these rocks were in a lake, pool, sea, etc. More will be known when a mission can be sent to bring back Mars rocks, Squyres said

It was reported that work will start right away on preparing another robotic mission in order to bring back some rocks and soil for close analysis.

Previously, evidence of frozen water has been seen in several places on Mars, and photographs taken from orbiters have shown structures that could have been formed by flowing or gushing water.