NASA this week revealed stunning findings from one of its Martian rovers that suggest the possibility of the presence of significant surface water in the planet's history:
Analysis of the rocks from which the Montdenier and Montagnac samples were taken and from the rover's previous sampling attempt may help the science team piece together the timeline of the area's past, which was marked by volcanic activity and periods of persistent water.
"It looks like our first rocks reveal a potentially habitable sustained environment," said Ken Farley of Caltech, project scientist for the mission, which is led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. "It's a big deal that the water was there a long time..."
What's more, salts have been spied within these rocks. These salts may have formed when groundwater flowed through and altered the original minerals in the rock, or more likely when liquid water evaporated, leaving the salts. The salt minerals in these first two rock cores may also have trapped tiny bubbles of ancient Martian water. If present, they could serve as microscopic time capsules, offering clues about the ancient climate and habitability of Mars. Salt minerals are also well-known on Earth for their ability to preserve signs of ancient life.
Is Mars a barren, red wasteland, populated by nothing but rocks and the occasional dusty rover? Or is it a frozen petri dish of tantalizing extraterrestrial biology? Sounds like we'll probably know fairly soon!
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