Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

NASA Rover Helps Reveal Possible Secrets Of Martian Life

Date:
November 29, 2005
Source:
National Aeronautics And Space Administration
Summary:
Life may have had a tough time getting started in the ancient environment that left its mark in the Martian rock layers examined by NASA's Opportunity rover. The most thorough analysis yet of the rover's discoveries reveals the challenges life may have faced in the harsh Martian environment. Based on Opportunity's data, nine papers by 60 researchers in volume 240, issue 1 of the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters discuss what this part of the Martian Meridiani Planum region was like eons ago. The papers present comparisons to some harsh habitats on Earth and examine the ramifications for possible life on Mars.

NASA's Opportunity rover captured this view of "Burns Cliff" after driving right to the base of this southeastern portion of the inner wall of "Endurance Crater." The view combines frames taken by Opportunity's panoramic camera between Nov. 13 and 20, 2004.
Credit: Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

Life may have had a tough time getting started in the ancient environment that left its mark in the Martian rock layers examined by NASA's Opportunity rover. The most thorough analysis yet of the rover's discoveries reveals the challenges life may have faced in the harsh Martian environment.

"This is the most significant set of papers our team has published," said Dr. Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. He is principal investigator for the science instruments on Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit. The lengthy reports reflect more thorough analysis of Opportunity's findings than earlier papers.

Scientists have been able to deduce conditions in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars were sometimes wet, strongly acidic and oxidizing. Those conditions probably posed stiff challenges to the origin of Martian life.

Based on Opportunity's data, nine papers by 60 researchers in volume 240, issue 1 of the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters discuss what this part of the Martian Meridiani Planum region was like eons ago. The papers present comparisons to some harsh habitats on Earth and examine the ramifications for possible life on Mars.

Dr. Andrew Knoll of Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., a paper co-author, said, "Life that had evolved in other places or earlier times on Mars, if any did, might adapt to Meridiani conditions, but the kind of chemical reactions we think were important to giving rise to life on Earth simply could not have happened at Meridiani."

Scientists analyzed data about stacked sedimentary rock layers 23 feet thick, exposed inside "Endurance Crater." They identified three divisions within the stack. The lowest, oldest portion had the signature of dry sand dunes; the middle portion, windblown sheets of sand with all the particles produced in part by previous evaporation of liquid water. The upper portion corresponded to layers Opportunity found earlier inside a smaller crater near its landing site.

Materials in all three divisions were wet both before and after the layers were deposited by either wind or water. Researchers described chemical evidence that the sand grains deposited in the layers had been altered by water before the layers formed. Scientists analyzed how acidic water moving through the layers after they were in place caused changes such as the formation of hematite-rich spherules within the rocks.

Experimental and theoretical testing reinforces the interpretation of changes caused by acidic water interacting with the rock layers. "We made simulated Mars rocks in our laboratory then infused acidic fluids through them," said researcher Nicholas Tosca from the State University of New York. “Our theoretical model shows the minerals predicted to form when those fluids evaporate bear a remarkable similarity to the minerals identified in the Meridiani outcrop."

The stack of layers in Endurance Crater resulted from a changeable environment perhaps 3.5 to 4 billion years ago. The area may have looked like salt flats occasionally holding water, surrounded by dunes. The White Sands region in New Mexico bears a similar physical resemblance. "For the chemistry and mineralogy of the environment, an acidic river basin named Rio Tinto, in Spain, provides useful similarities," said Dr. David Fernandez-Remolar of Spain's Centro de Astrobiologia.

Many types of microbes live in the Rio Tinto environment, one of the reasons for concluding that ancient Meridiani could have been habitable. However, the organisms at Rio Tinto are descended from populations that live in less acidic and stressful habitats. If Meridiani had any life, it might have had to originate in a different habitat.

"You need to be very careful when you are talking about the prospect for life on Mars," Knoll said. "We've looked at only a very small parcel of Martian real estate. The geological record Opportunity has examined comes from a relatively short period out of Mars' long history."

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Exploration Rover project. Images and information about the rovers and their discoveries are available at:

http://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/solarsystem/mer_main.html


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Aeronautics And Space Administration. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

National Aeronautics And Space Administration. "NASA Rover Helps Reveal Possible Secrets Of Martian Life." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 November 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/11/051129220232.htm>.
National Aeronautics And Space Administration. (2005, November 29). NASA Rover Helps Reveal Possible Secrets Of Martian Life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/11/051129220232.htm
National Aeronautics And Space Administration. "NASA Rover Helps Reveal Possible Secrets Of Martian Life." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/11/051129220232.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Thursday, July 31, 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