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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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By goz314 on 12/12/2007 2:17:17 PM , Rating: 2
There should be a couple of corrections/clarifications posted about the details in this article. While MSL is scheduled to head to Mars in 2009, it is most likely not going back to 'home plate' in Gusev crater. While I am sure there is additional investigative work that can be done at that site with the new suite of instruments that the MSL will be carying, the project scientists are looking at other sites on the surface of Mars to explore. Unless strong evidence turned up that microbial life were present at that exact spot either presently or sometime in the past, NASA would not send the 800M dollar MSL to the exact spot where another 400M dollar rover had alread conducted 90% of the useful remote investigation. Mars is a big place and there are quite a few other areas that MSL is better suited to explore.

The other clarification that should be made is with regard to the statment about there only being two weeks left for Spirit to reach a sun-facing position in advance of the impending "strong dust storms." First off, Martian winter does not correlate with winter solstice on Earth which is in a little less than two weeks. Likewise, the approach of southern martian winter (the minimum point of which is not until June) has no relation to the amount of dust activity seen locally at the rover's location. Over the past 4 years, there has only been 1 global dust storm of the type that Mars can experience and that has threatened the rover's energy supply. These global dust storms are not annual or seasonal events nor are they very predictable.

RE: Corrections...
By goz314 on 12/12/2007 2:20:03 PM , Rating: 2
Ooops.... I should point out that this is not an article, but a blog entry. That's an important distintion that needs to be made at dailytech these days.

RE: Corrections...
By johnsonx on 12/12/2007 7:01:35 PM , Rating: 2
no, it isn't a blog entry, it's a science article.

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