Mars Soil Discovery Suggests Conditions Hospitable to Life

A new site being explored during NASA’s ongoing Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER) has yielded soil samples unlike any examined before on the planet and that appear more favorable for life, scientists said.

Opportunity, the resilient solar-powered rover that has been inspecting the surface of the Red Planet for the past seven years, recently arrived at the massive Endeavour crater and discovered a rock that hints at an ancient water source and a once warmer plant.

Dubbed Tisdale 2, the footstool-sized rock is the first the rover has examined in detail at Endeavour.

“It’s different from any rock we’ve ever seen on Mars,” revealed Steve Squyres, a Cornell astronomer and the rover’s chief scientist. “It has a composition similar to some volcanic rocks, but there’s much more zinc and bromine than we’ve typically seen… clues that we may be dealing with a hydrothermal system here on Mars.”

The observations and measurements taken by the Mars exploration rovers lead scientists to believe that the rocks on the rim of the crater contain clay minerals that form in wet conditions and which are less acidic – a sign of more neutral water, and conditions that would at one time been more suitable for life.

Despite their initial findings, scientists will continue to look for additional zinc-rich rocks to see if the concentrations are the same, as well as probe for other minerals tied to water – in particular, bedrock, rock that has not been moved by impacts or other processes.

“We’ve got some strange stuff going on, but we’re not ready to draw any firm conclusions,” Squyres said.

Photo: NASA