Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Mars Rovers Probing Water History At Two Sites

Date:
October 8, 2004
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
NASA's Spirit and Opportunity have been exploring Mars about three times as long as originally scheduled. The more they look, the more evidence of past liquid water on Mars these robots discover.

This false-color image taken by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows a rock dubbed 'Escher' on the southwestern slopes of 'Endurance Crater.'
Credit: Image courtesy of NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory

October 7, 2004 -- NASA's Spirit and Opportunity have been exploring Mars about three times as long as originally scheduled. The more they look, the more evidence of past liquid water on Mars these robots discover. Team members reported the new findings at a news briefing today.

About six months ago, Opportunity established that its exploration area was wet a long time ago. The area was wet before it dried and eroded into a wide plain. The team's new findings suggest some rocks there may have gotten wet a second time, after an impact excavated a stadium sized crater.

Evidence of this exciting possibility has been identified in a flat rock dubbed "Escher" and in some neighboring rocks near the bottom of the crater. These plate-like rocks bear networks of cracks dividing the surface into patterns of polygons, somewhat similar in appearance to cracked mud after the water has dried up here on Earth.

Alternative histories, such as fracturing by the force of the crater-causing impact, or the final desiccation of the original wet environment that formed the rocks, might also explain the polygonal cracks. Rover scientists hope a lumpy boulder nicknamed "Wopmay," Opportunity's next target for inspection, may help narrow the list of possible explanations.

"When we saw these polygonal crack patterns, right away we thought of a secondary water event significantly later than the episode that created the rocks," said Dr. John Grotzinger. He is a rover-team geologist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass. Finding geological evidence about watery periods in Mars' past is the rover project's main goal, because such persistently wet environments may have been hospitable to life.

"Did these cracks form after the crater was created? We don't really know yet," Grotzinger said.

If they did, one possible source of moisture could be accumulations of frost partially melting during climate changes, as Mars wobbled on its axis of rotation, in cycles of tens of thousands of years. According to Grotzinger, another possibility could be the melting of underground ice or release of underground water in large enough quantity to pool a little lake within the crater.

One type of evidence Wopmay could add to the case for wet conditions after the crater formed would be a crust of water-soluble minerals. After examining that rock, the rover team's plans for Opportunity are to get a close look at a tall stack of layers nicknamed "Burns Cliff" from the base of the cliff. The rover will then climb out of the crater and head south to the spacecraft's original heat shield and nearby rugged terrain, where deeper rock layers may be exposed.

Halfway around Mars, Spirit is climbing higher into the "Columbia Hills." Spirit drove more than three kilometers (approximately two miles) across a plain to reach them. After finding bedrock that had been extensively altered by water, scientists used the rover to look for relatively unchanged rock as a comparison for understanding the area's full range of environmental changes. Instead, even the freshest-looking rocks examined by Spirit in the Columbia Hills have shown signs of pervasive water alteration.

"We haven't seen a single unaltered volcanic rock, since we crossed the boundary from the plains into the hills, and I'm beginning to suspect we never will," said Dr. Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for the science payload on both rovers. "All the rocks in the hills have been altered significantly by water. We're having a wonderful time trying to work out exactly what happened here."

More clues to deciphering the environmental history of the hills could lie in layered rock outcrops farther upslope, Spirit's next targets. "Just as we worked our way deeper into the Endurance crater with Opportunity, we'll work our way higher and higher into the hills with Spirit, looking at layered rocks and constructing a plausible geologic history," Squyres said.

Jim Erickson, rover project manager at JPL, said, "Both Spirit and Opportunity have only minor problems, and there is really no way of knowing how much longer they will keep operating. However we are optimistic about their conditions, and we have just been given a new lease on life for them, a six-month extended mission that began Oct. 1. The solar power situation is better than expected, but these machines are already well past their design life. While they're healthy, we'll keep them working as hard as possible."

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Images and additional information about the project are available from JPL and Cornell at http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov and http://athena.cornell.edu.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Mars Rovers Probing Water History At Two Sites." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 October 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/10/041008021427.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2004, October 8). Mars Rovers Probing Water History At Two Sites. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/10/041008021427.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Mars Rovers Probing Water History At Two Sites." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/10/041008021427.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Supply Ship Takes Off for International Space Station

Supply Ship Takes Off for International Space Station

AFP (July 30, 2014) The European Space Agency's fifth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-5) is takes off to the International Space Station on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana. Duration: 00:34 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

AP (July 30, 2014) Arianespace launched a rocket Tuesday from French Guiana carrying a robotic cargo ship to deliver provisions to the International Space Station. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

AP (July 30, 2014) Every summer, tourists make the pilgrimage to Chincoteague Island, Va. to see wild ponies cross the Assateague Channel. But, it's the rockets sending to supplies to the International Space Station that are making this a year-round destination. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Newsy (July 27, 2014) The satellite is back under ground control after a tense few days, but with a gecko sex experiment on board, the media just couldn't help themselves. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins