Mars Rocks Life

Scientists suspect that beneath their rugged exterior, some Martian rocks could be hiding life.

An examination of data gathered by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity reveals deposits that, on Earth, are only created by water moving through the rock. Opportunity also turned up evidence of hot, moving water within the rocks, likely caused by the impact that scooped out the crater, Odyssey. Opportunity completed its original three-month mission on Mars eight years ago. It reached Endeavour last summer, three years after the rover’s science team chose Endeavour as a long-term destination. This crater is about 4 billion years old and 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter. The Rover studied various kinds of rocks. One of the outcroppings, Homestake, boasts evidence of watery environments in the cracks within the rocks. A flat ridge only a third of an inch (1 centimeter) tall and 20 inches (50 cm) long, Homestake contains deposits of a sulfate mineral known as gypsum within the rock. Water, slowly leaking from the ground into the rock, carried sulfate with it. As fractures in the rock opened up, the gypsum was deposited inside. As said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. gypsum veins are common in all sorts of settings on Earth. They always form when water flows through the rock and precipitates out gypsum in the fractures. Life could thrive within the cracks. Squyres went on to caution that there is no evidence of life in Homestake itself, but the watery conditions, that would have been necessary the requirement of water being there, was present.