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Mars Update: Liquid Water Flowed in Meridiani Planum

I'm watching live on NASA TV and updating this post as information is revealed:

The Big News: There was ample liquid water in Meridiani Planum (where the Opportunity Rover is exploring), and for a long time this area would have been ripe for life. There are four pieces of evidence for liquid water, which the add up to what the science team calls "definitive" proof.

  1. Rock spherules (which have sometimes been referred to as "blueberries") appear to be concretions, formed when rocks form from raw material suspended in liquid water.
  2. The Martian rock is "shot through with some very weird looking holes" which suggest the former presence of tabular crystals which have since been eroded away by water.
  3. Using the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) and a spectrographic analyzer the scientists have found extremely high levels of sulfur, suggesting the onetime presence of sulfate salts, which suggest water.
  4. The Mössbauer Spectrometer data has revealed jarosite, a sulfate hydrate which only occurs in the presence of water.
It cannot be concluded that life was there, but it would seem that the necessary conditions for life were in place.

The scientists want very much to return rocks to Earth for more detailed and flexible analysis here. This could be accomplished earliest via robot landers with return vehicles, or eventually via manned exploration.

JPL has a press release up now.

A journalist from Popular Mechanics asked whether there was any sense of when and for how long water might have been present: millenia? centuries? He was told that this really can't be determined without detailed stratagraphic and laboratory analysis. We're only looking at a tiny geological timeslice right now, and we don't have a way to put it in chronological context. The journalist, diappointed, said that he was wondering whether there was any chance that Percival Lowell and Giovanni Schiaparelli had actually, as they thought, seen canals on Mars a century ago. The mind reels. We're dealing with very long geologic timescales here (I thought he was going to be asking about millions of years versus billions of years) and the probability seems extremely low that we just happen to be looking at Mars only a hundred years after all of its liquid surface water froze out. Fascinating as this would be I'm afraid this question reveals a lot more about the scientific merits of Popular Mechanics (or at least of this reporter) than it does about Mars. The scientists' response? "No. I don't think so."



The stupidity of journalists, outside their narrow range of expertise (political games, corruption, and the like) never ceases to astound me. Yeah, pal, and the Orson Welles broadcast was REAL!

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