UFO UpDates
A mailing list for the study of UFO-related phenomena
'Its All Here In Black & White'
Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2004 > Mar > Mar 3

Mystery Over Red Planet Was A Wet Planet

From: Frank Warren <frank-warren.nul>
Date: Wed, 03 Mar 2004 06:33:54 -0800
Fwd Date: Wed, 03 Mar 2004 14:50:38 -0500
Subject: Mystery Over Red Planet Was A Wet Planet

Source: The Age


March 4, 2004

Mystery over - Red Planet was a wet planet

By Stephen Cauchi
Science Reporter

Decades of speculation on whether Mars once had life-sustaining
water ended yesterday as NASA announced that the landing site of
its rover, Opportunity, used to be "soaking wet".

Mission scientists told a press conference at NASA headquarters
in Washington that two weeks of intensive rock study by
Opportunity unambiguously pointed to a "persistently wet
environment that could possibly have been hospitable to life".

The historic announcement had been hotly anticipated for the past
week as scientists pored over Opportunity's analysis of Martian
rocks, especially a layered specimen called El Capitan.

"Were these rocks acted upon, were they altered by liquid water?
The answer to that question is, definitely, yes," said Steve
Squyres, the principal investigator for Opportunity's science

"Liquid water once flowed through these rocks. It changed their
texture and it changed their chemistry... this was a ground water
environment that would have been suitable for life. That doesn't
mean that life was there. We don't know that."

Several lines of evidence pointed to the conclusion, scientists
said. These included the rocks' distinctive layering and
pockmarked indentations.

"This distinctive texture is familiar to geologists as the sites
where crystals of salt minerals form within rocks that sit in
briny water," NASA said.

Sulphate salts were also found. According to NASA, "rocks with as
much salt as this Mars rock either have formed in water or, after
formation, have been highly altered by long exposures to water".

The rover also found jarosite, an iron-sulphate mineral pointing
to "an acidic lake or acidic hot springs environment".

Opportunity landed on Mars on January 25 in the Meridiani Planum
region, selected because it is rich in a mineral - grey hematite
- that usually forms in water. Its twin, Spirit, is on the
opposite side of the planet in Gusev crater, which may have been
a lake.

Scientist have long suspected that the Red Planet was at least
partly blue because of distinctive erosion patterns that seem to
have been carved by flowing water.

NASA did not speculate when the water existed, why it vanished or
where it went. Mars may still have water, albeit underground in
reservoirs, but its surface is totally dry. It also has frozen
water mixed with frozen carbon dioxide, or dry ice, in its polar

Monash University geosciences lecturer Marion Anderson, a member
of the committee that selected Opportunity's landing site, said
the news was "better than what we could have hoped for".

By checking the rock layering, Opportunity will investigate if a
lake once existed at the site or if hot water seeped to the
surface from underground, she said.

"These are pretty much the only two (scenarios) that would give
the structures that we're seeing on these rocks," she said. "In
the next 10 days, Opportunity will see which of these two is what

Ms Anderson said Meridiani Planum would be a "prime target" for
future Mars landers looking for evidence of past Martian life.
"It gives us more of a reason to look for life than ever before.
If Beagle 2 had survived it might have given us that answer, but
it didn't."

NASA scientists agree. "It is clear that we are going to have to
do a sample return (mission)," NASA administrator Ed Weiler said.

A critic of the theory that Mars once had water, Nick Hoffman of
Melbourne University, conceded the findings "absolutely
guaranteed there was water on Mars".

"I'll eat one slice of humble pie on this one," he said.

Dr Hoffman said he believed the rocks were wet because of water
seeping from the ground, not because they were in a lake.

He said the water may have existed as long ago as 3.5 billion
years, and probably in many places. "There was water seeping out
of the ground just about everywhere. There was a lot of water.
It's very exciting."

[ Next Message | Previous Message | This Day's Messages ]
This Month's Index |

UFO UpDates Main Index

UFO UpDates - Toronto - Operated by Errol Bruce-Knapp

Archive programming by Glenn Campbell at Glenn-Campbell.com