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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2004 > Mar > Mar 26

Mars Mission Finds Evidence Of Hospitable Sea

From: Frank Warren <frank-warren.nul>
Date: Thu, 25 Mar 2004 07:32:29 -0800
Fwd Date: Fri, 26 Mar 2004 07:03:51 -0500
Subject: Mars Mission Finds Evidence Of Hospitable Sea

Source: Radio Free Europe


24 March 2004

World: Mars Mission Finds Evidence Of A Salty Sea Hospitable To Life
By Andrew Tully

U.S. space scientists have moved one step closer to determining
whether Mars once harbored life. Earlier this month, one of two
robotic vehicles roaming the planet found evidence that water
had once eroded stone. Now they've announced that the evidence
points to something even more important.

Washington, 24 March 2004 (RFE/RL) - American scientists say
they have found the strongest evidence yet that Mars was once
hospitable to life.

Speaking with reporters yesterday in Washington, officials from
the U.S. space agency NASA were careful to say they had not
found evidence of life itself. But, they say, "Opportunity" -
 one of two robotic vehicles that landed on the planet in
January - has found evidence of a shallow, salty sea.

The conclusion was based on the same evidence that led to the
announcement on 2 March that water had, indeed, once flowed on
Mars. At that time, however, scientists were able to conclude
only that it was present in the Meridiani Planum, the area being
explored by one of the vehicles.

"We don't know that life was there, but we have an environment
that would have been suitable for life." Ed Weiler, NASA's
associate administrator for space science, said early analysis
of the evidence indicates that some Martian rocks had undergone
erosion that could only have been caused by water. He said
further study determined something even more important.

"It appears that the rocks at Meridiani were not just altered or
modified by water, they were actually formed in water, perhaps a
shallow, salty sea," he said. "This is a profound discovery. It
has profound implications for astrobiology [the study of
extraterrestrial life]. And I'd like to say, if you have an
interest in searching for fossils on Mars, this is the first
place you want to go."

Steve Squyres, the main scientist for the Mars mission, said the
fact that the rock was formed in water, rather than merely
eroded by water, indicates the onetime presence of enough water
to constitute a sea.

"We have found what I believe to be strong evidence that the
rocks themselves are sediments that were laid down in liquid
water. It's a fundamental distinction. It's like the difference
between water you can draw from a well and water you can swim

In other words, Squyres says, a mere trickle of water would not
be enough to sustain life like that known on Earth. But he said
the Martian sea in the Meridiani Planum was plentiful and salty.

"These are the kinds of environments that are very suitable for
life. Now, we don't know that life was there, but we have an
environment that would have been suitable for life. The second
reason it's important is the potential for preservation of

Squyres said the minerals in the water may have trapped whatever
was submerged in it, perhaps leaving fossils for eventual

There is still a lot that scientists do not know about Mars and
its water, Squyres says - for example, the size of the newly
discovered sea, and how common such seas may have been on the

They also do not know the size of the former body of water found
by the Mars rover, whether it was once a permanent sea, or
whether it flooded from time to time like a desert basin. There
is also no evidence yet as to when this water existed, or how
long the area was wet.

But Squyres said that uncovering the evidence of the salty sea
on Meridiani Planum proves that NASA has the means to find
answers to at least some of these questions.

The U.S. space agency plans to mount unmanned missions to the
planet every 26 months. One such mission, scheduled for 2013,
would return to Earth with rock samples for more thorough

U.S. President George W. Bush also has proposed sending humans
to Mars, although he has not given a detailed schedule for that

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