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    NASA: Liquid water once on Mars Evidence red planet was once soaking wet http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/space/03/02/mars.findings/index.html By Marsha Walton -
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 2, 2004
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      NASA: Liquid water once on Mars
      Evidence red planet was once 'soaking wet'


      By Marsha Walton - CNN

      (CNN) --Mission accomplished.

      NASA scientists say the Mars rovers have found what they were looking for:
      Hard evidence that the red planet was once "soaking wet."

      "We have concluded the rocks here were once soaked in liquid water," said
      Steve Squyres of Cornell University. He's the principal investigator for
      the science instruments on Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit.

      "The second question we've tried to answer: Were these rocks altered by
      liquid water? We believe definitively, yes," said Squyres.

      Squyres and other NASA officials made the announcement at NASA
      headquarters in Washington, after several days of giving tantalizing hints
      that something significant had been discovered.

      "Three and a half years ago, in July 2000, we were on stage here to talk
      about sending two rovers to get evidence of past water. NASA and its
      international partners have turned those dreams to reality," said Ed
      Weiler, NASA associate administrator for space science.

      Scientists used instruments on board the golf cart-sized rovers to study
      the composition of the rocks and soil on the planet. The rocks' physical
      appearance, plus the detection of sulfates, make the case for a watery
      history, and more important, an environment that could have been
      hospitable to life.

      Spirit and Opportunity were sent to opposite sides of the planet with the
      possibility of investigating different types of terrain. Spirit, the first
      rover to arrive on January 3, landed near the Gusev Crater, which may once
      have held a lake.

      But geologists and other researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
      in Pasadena, California, were thrilled when they saw the possibilities
      surrounding Opportunity, which landed three weeks later. It landed inside
      a small crater in the Meridiani Planum, one of the flattest places on the
      planet. And its landing site was within driving distance for the
      spacecraft to reach an exposed slice of bedrock.

      Since its landing January 25, Opportunity has used the same tools as a
      human field geologist would to determine the chemical contents of the
      rocks. Using an alpha particle X-ray spectrometer, a device that can
      identify chemical elements, scientists have identified a high
      concentration of sulfur in the bedrock.

      Another instrument on board, a Moessbauer spectrometer, has detected an
      iron sulfate mineral known as jarosite. From their knowledge of rocks on
      earth, scientists say rocks with as much salt as this Mars rock either
      formed in water, or had a long exposure to water after they were formed.
      The scientists say these rocks could have formed in an acidic lake or even
      a hot springs.

      Scientists say the case for a watery past is further strengthened by the
      pictures taken by the rovers' panoramic cameras and its microscopic
      imager. One target rock, named "El Capitan," is filled with random
      pockmarks. Geologists say a texture like that comes from sites where salt
      crystals have formed in rocks that have sat in salt water.

      Scientists say they have gained other clues from the physical appearance
      of the rocks. They see a pattern called "crossbedding," which is often the
      result of wind or water moving across the rock's surface.

      The cost of the two rover missions is about $820 million dollars. With
      solar panels and lithium-ion battery systems aboard, each rover is
      expected to function and communicate with earth for about 90 Mars days,
      known as "sols." That's equivalent to 92 earth days.

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