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A Mars rover  (Source: NASA)

The discovery made on the Red Planet  (Source: NASA)
The Mars rovers continue to impress

NASA this week announced its Mars Exploration Rover Spirit discovered a patch of land on Mars that revealed the possibility of a past environment able to sustain microbial life.

While exploring a scientifically important area of Mars last May, Spirit, while dragging a broken wheel on the surface, discovered a patch of "nearly pure silica" found the Home Plate section of Mars.  Scientists believe it came from a hot-spring or fumarole -- an environment which forces acidic steam to rise through cracks on the planet's surface, also stripping mineral components while leaving only silica behind.

Even though the rovers were not designed to evaluate possible signs of life, each discovery like this one provides pieces to a complicated puzzle on Mars.  Researchers hope to have the opportunity to study this specific location on Home Plate when new missions are launched to the Red Planet.  The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), scheduled to launch in September 2009, will be NASA's first chance to head back to Home Plate.

"Whichever of those conditions produced it, this concentration of silica is probably the most significant discovery by Spirit for revealing a habitable niche that existed on Mars in the past," said Steve Squyres, principal investigator for data gathered by the rovers.

Spirit now has only two weeks to safely arrive at a sun-facing slope on Home Plate before strong dust storms paralyzes it for the winter.

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Consider the irony..
By ToeCutter on 12/12/2007 9:53:50 AM , Rating: 2
So, had Spirit not suffered its broken wheel, this discovery may not have happened?

Irony at its best...

RE: Consider the irony..
By wwwebsurfer on 12/12/2007 10:05:27 AM , Rating: 4
this is not irony, this is the essence of science. generally when everything goes well there is no discovery, no advancement. it's only when something breaks, something fails, something happens that forces us to question that true science occurs.

RE: Consider the irony..
By jskirwin on 12/12/2007 10:06:57 AM , Rating: 4
Not irony: serendipity

RE: Consider the irony..
By pnyffeler on 12/12/2007 12:09:58 PM , Rating: 5
Serendipity is looking for a needle in a haystack and finding the farmer's daughter.

RE: Consider the irony..
By johnsonx on 12/12/2007 6:54:08 PM , Rating: 2
unless she's fat and ugly, in which case you're back to irony.

RE: Consider the irony..
By TomZ on 12/12/2007 10:10:31 AM , Rating: 1
That's a pretty romantic and pessimistic view. I would guess the reality is that most scientific breakthroughs are the result of hard work and diligence, although there are sometimes "happy accidents," (some of which are pretty well-known).

RE: Consider the irony..
By littlebitstrouds on 12/12/2007 10:33:28 AM , Rating: 2
Lighten up Tom

RE: Consider the irony..
By AnnihilatorX on 12/12/2007 10:40:40 AM , Rating: 2
I can recall off my head Radar and Penicillin
There should be quite a lot of accidental finds in science

RE: Consider the irony..
By Ratwar on 12/12/2007 11:01:31 AM , Rating: 4
Yep, a lot of scientific discoveries are started by odd observations, which are followed by hard work to explain and utilize them.

RE: Consider the irony..
By TITAN1080 on 12/12/07, Rating: -1
RE: Consider the irony..
By mrteddyears on 12/12/2007 11:36:25 AM , Rating: 3
The wheel was stamped "Made in china"

RE: Consider the irony..
By Sahrin on 12/13/2007 12:37:38 PM , Rating: 2
"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!', but 'That's funny ...'"-Isaac Asimov

RE: Consider the irony..
By ToeCutter on 12/12/2007 11:11:50 AM , Rating: 2
Irony at its best...

My irony comment was centered around the unfortunate nature of Spirit losing control of its wheel a while back. I read a blurb from NASA stating that the failed wheel would likely mean the end of Spirit, and here the broken wheel has actually led to perhaps its most important discovery.

"Google fired a shot heard 'round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people." -- Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.)
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