Friday, December 19, 2008

Discovery of Carbonate Minerals on Mars

Images taken by the high resolution CRISM spectrometer on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in a recent study by Brown University have broken new ground in the age-old question of whether or not Mars could have at one point sustained life. The discovery of magnesium carbonate rocks in several research sites is important because these carbonate minerals form in the presence of water, and for the first time the research has suggested that they formed in neutral-pH water that would have provided an ideal environment for living organisms.

Lead Astronomer Bethany Ehlmann says "Such water represent a different sort of aqueous environment -- potentially a habitat for micro-organisms -- on ancient Mars."

In some regions where research has been conducted on the surface of Mars, it is clear that acidic waters were at one point present, and it was assumed that this was the case for most of the planet. Astronomers are eager to study the wide range of possible environments this discovery has proven there could be on the planet, and arduously continue to prove the existence of life on Mars.

John Mustard, another member of the Brown University team added "This is opening up a range of environments on Mars. This is highlighting an environment that to the best of our knowledge doesn't experience the same kind of unforgiving conditions that have been identified in other areas. We know there's been water all over the place, but how frequently have the conditions been hospitable for life? We can say pretty confidently that when water was present in the places we looked at, it would have been a happy, pleasant environment for life."

An Artist's Conception of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

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