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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > May > May 22

Mars Rover Unearths Surprise Evidence of Wetter

From: NASA News <hqnews.nul>
Date: Mon, 21 May 2007 15:44:04 -0400
Fwd Date: Tue, 22 May 2007 09:16:01 -0400
Subject: Mars Rover Unearths Surprise Evidence of Wetter


May 21, 2007

Dwayne Brown/Tabatha Thompson
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726/3895

Natalie Godwin/Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-0850/6278

RELEASE: 07-118

MARS ROVER SPIRIT UNEARTHS SURPRISE EVIDENCE OF WETTER PAST

PASADENA, Calif. - A patch of Martian soil analyzed by NASA's
rover Spirit is so rich in silica that it may provide some of
the strongest evidence yet that ancient Mars was much wetter
than it is now. The processes that could have produced such a
concentrated deposit of silica require the presence of water.

Members of the rover science team heard from a colleague during
a recent teleconference that the alpha particle X-ray
spectrometer, a chemical analyzer at the end of Spirit's arm,
had measured a composition of about 90 percent pure silica for
this soil.

"You could hear people gasp in astonishment," said Steve Squyres
of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for
the Mars rovers' science instruments. "This is a remarkable
discovery. And the fact that we found something this new and
different after nearly 1,200 days on Mars makes it even more
remarkable. It makes you wonder what else is still out there."

Spirit's miniature thermal emission spectrometer observed the
patch, and Steve Ruff of Arizona State University, Tempe,
noticed that its spectrum showed a high silica content. The team
has laid out plans for further study of the soil patch and
surrounding deposits.

Exploring a low range of hills inside a Connecticut-sized basin
named Gusev Crater, Spirit had previously found other indicators
of long-ago water at the site, such as patches of water-bearing,
sulfur-rich soil; alteration of minerals; and evidence of
explosive volcanism.

"This is some of the best evidence Spirit has found for water at
Gusev," said Albert Yen, a geochemist at NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. One possible origin for the silica
could have been interaction of soil with acid vapors produced by
volcanic activity in the presence of water. Another could have
been from water in a hot spring environment. The latest
discovery adds compelling new evidence for ancient conditions
that might have been favorable for life, according to members of
the rover science team.

David Des Marais, an astrobiologist at NASA's Ames Research
Center, Moffett Field, Calif., said, "What's so exciting is that
this could tell us about environments that have similarities to
places on Earth that are clement for organisms."

Spirit and its twin rover Opportunity completed their original
three-month prime missions in April 2004. Both are still
operating, though showing signs of age. One of Spirit's six
wheels no longer rotates, so it leaves a deep track as it drags
through soil. That churning has exposed several patches of
bright soil, leading to some of Spirit's biggest discoveries at
Gusev, including this recent discovery.

Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program,
said, "This unexpected new discovery is a reminder that Spirit
and Opportunity are still doing cutting-edge exploration more
than three years into their extended missions. It also
reinforces the fact that significant amounts of water were
present in Mars' past, which continues to spur the hope that we
can show that Mars was once habitable and possibly supported
life."

The newly discovered patch of soil has been given the informal
name "Gertrude Weise," after a player in the All-American Girls
Professional Baseball League, according to Ray Arvidson of
Washington University in St. Louis, deputy principal
investigator for the rovers.

"We've looked at dozens of disturbed soil targets in the rover
tracks, and this is the first one that shows a high silica
signature," said Ruff, who last month proposed using Spirit's
miniature thermal emission spectrometer to observe this soil.
That instrument provides mineral composition information about
targets viewed from a distance. The indications it found for
silica in the overturned soil prompted a decision this month to
drive Spirit close enough to touch the soil with the alpha
particle X-ray spectrometer. Silica commonly occurs on Earth as
the crystalline mineral quartz and is the main ingredient in
window glass. The Martian silica at the Gertrude Weise patch is
non-crystalline, with no detectable quartz.

Spirit worked within about 50 yards of the Gertrude Weise area
for more than 18 months before the discovery was made. "This
discovery has driven home to me the value of in-depth, careful
exploration," Squyres said. "This is a target-rich environment,
and it is a good thing we didn't go hurrying through it."

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, Opportunity has been
exploring Victoria Crater for about eight months. "Opportunity
has completed the initial survey of the crater's rim and is now
headed back to the area called Duck Bay, which may provide a
safe path down into the crater," said John Callas, project
manager for the rovers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

For images and information about the rovers, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/rovers


-end-



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