WASHINGTON – NASA’s Opportunity rover has found evidence that at least one site on Mars once was drenched in water and capable of supporting life.
The finding suggests that Mars, now a cold and dry planet, was once more hospitable to life and is sure to reinvigorate the debate on whether primitive life could have evolved on Mars just as it did on Earth.
The finding vindicates NASA’s decision to send rovers to two locations near the Martian equator in search of evidence of past water activity.
Opportunity landed in late January at a small crater on the flat expanse called Meridiani Planum and has been using its instruments for much of the past three weeks to study a finely layered rock outcrop.
The science team now has concluded that outcrop once was “soaked in liquid water.”
BRUCE Murray, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology, also praised the work of the rover team. While a skeptic about the possibility life ever existed on Mars, Murray said the rocks under study may offer an “important clue to what it was like two or three billion years ago” on Mars.
While spacecraft have found evidence of water ice at the poles of Mars and in subsurface deposits, scientists say the atmosphere is too thin to support liquid water at the planet’s surface today.