NASA announced today that the rocks in the 'Eagle Crater' site on the
on Mars, were formed underneath a body of standing water, perhaps a shallow salty sea. This discovery was made by the Mars
Exploration Rover Opportunity. After almost 2 months of exploration in the 22 meter wide crater, the rover has now driven out onto the surrounding
plain to continue its exploration.
The evidence for this discovery include the fact that the percentages of Bromine varied quite differently in the rocks. As did the percentage of
chemically similar elements such as Chlorine. This only occurs on Earth in rocks that have been formed in a body of evaporating salty water.
On top of this, the Cross-Bedding visible on the rocks indicated that the
rocks themselves formed under water. This was made possible by some complicated work done with the microscopic imager to create a highly-detailed
mosaic of the layering in the rock.
Dr Steve Squyres reiterated the fact that this area was indeed a very habitable environment for life as we know it. He went on to say that this would
be a good place to start looking for microbial fossils. Unfortunately the Rover's payload is not able to view microbe-sized fossils, but the chance
of seeing a 'dinosaur footprint' is not being ruled out.
This announcement comes on the tail of a Press conference on March 2nd. Where NASA announced that the rocks at the Opportunity landing site on
Meridiani Planum where once 'Drenched' in water. At the time it was not possible to know whether the rocks themselves were formed underwater. Or if
they were just acted upon by water later on. It now appears Opportunity could even be parked on the shore of an ancient salty sea.
In that conference it was announced that Opportunity would stay in 'Eagle crater' for a while longer. In an attempt to gather more data and discover
the origins of the rock outcrops. An archived copy of the March 2nd conference (and some others) is available at the
Mars Press Conference Archive
. Or a written summary is presented in
press release from JPL.
This discovery means that not only was the site once 'Drenched' in ground water. It was also once completely submerged in a body of water. A body of
water large enough to have currents and cause the textures evident in the 'Last Chance' and 'Dells' Rocks. These currents are estimated to be
In attendance at todays conference were:
- Dr. Ed Weiler, NASA's Associate Administrator, Office of Space Science
- Prof. Steve Squyres, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and MER Principal Investigator
- Prof. John Grotzinger, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass, and a MER Co-investigator
- Dr. Dave Rubin, U.S. Geological Survey Sedimentologist at the Pacific Science Center in Santa Cruz, Calif.
- Dr. Jim Garvin, NASA Lead Scientist for Mars and the Moon, Office of Space Science, NASA Headquarters
The Conference was held at NASA headquarters in Washington DC. An opening statement was made by NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. He announced that
this discovery has 'Profound Implications' for future human exploration.
However, there are still many things to learn about the history of the Red Planet. How much water was present, and for how long, remains a very big
question. As is how the Planet went from having free standing water on the surface to being the dry frozen tundra it is today.
Related ATSNN Articles:
Mars once 'Drenched' in Water.
Related ATS discussions:
Other Related Sites:
Mineral in Mars 'Berries' Adds to Water Story
NASA Press Release about this finding
NASA Feature Article
[Edited on 23-3-2004 by Kano]
[Edited on 24-3-2004 by Kano]