Mars rover Opportunity finds gypsum a strong indicator of water

first_imgNASA has announced that its Mars rover, Opportunity, has found the most convincing evidence to date of traces of water on the Red Planet. Pictured above is a thumb-sized vein of what appears to be gypsum that was most likely left behind by a small stream. This evidence is being called a “slam-dunk” by geologists because it’s being observed in the same location that it formed, unlike the rest of the gypsum found on Mars to date.Measuring about sixteen inches long, the deposit is in stark contrast to its surroundings due to the different color and to the fact that its slightly raised above the surface. Other veins have been observed near this location, which poses a bit of a mystery about other gypsum dust that has been found in Opportunity’s travels. Unlike the “Homestake” vein, as it’s being called, scientists have no answer as to the origin of the dust they have seen through microscopic scans by the rover.Homestake is located in the “apron” that surrounds the Endeavour Crater, a fourteen-mile wide impact zone that Opportunity first reached last August. The reason it’s such a “rock” solid indicator of water is that gypsum’s chemical composition is made up of calcium sulfate that contains water, or CaSO4·2H2O. Finding a vein that is buried into the surrounding bedrock indicates that there had to be water in some form them at some time in the planet’s history. With proof of water, may come evidence of some sort of microscopic life that may have existed on Mars.Originally launched in 2004, the Opportunity was one of two probes that successfully landed on the Red Planet with a mission that was supposed to last just three months. Obviously, the hardy little rover has lasted much longer than that, and has traveled a distance of 21 miles in its lifespan. While that does not seem to be a large number, remember that the vehicle itself is rather small, and moves at a very slow pace. Discoveries like Homestake are going to be vital to the next mission to land on Mars, the car-sized Curiosity that lands sometime in August of next year. With the larger rover, NASA will be able to examine a larger range of the planet surface. It’s exciting to think of what discoveries may come out of the mission.Read more at NASAlast_img read more