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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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MSL Not Targetting Gusev
By marsbound2024 on 12/13/2007 3:53:36 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, unfortunately, Gusev Crater is not one of MSL's potential targets so I don't think it will be visiting Home Plate. There's still lots of Mars to explore and potentially far more interesting places that the MSL is capable of reaching and the MER rovers were not. The landing system on the MSL (and the likelihood of a radioisotope power source) is more advanced and will allow that rover to have a smaller landing ellipse. Not near as many worries about trying to land MSL in rugged terrain and it crashing into a cliff as it would be with MER-A and B (10 kilometer error versus 150 kilometer error).




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