Mars rover Opportunity finds ‘most powerful’ water clue
Nasa’s Mars rover Opportunity has found slivers of a bright material that looks very much like it is gypsum (calcium sulphate).
If confirmed, it would be the most unambiguous signal of water activity yet found on Mars by this mission, which manages to keep on rolling.Creaking and arthritic it may be, but after nearly eight years, the rover is still delivering remarkable science.
Lead scientist Steve Squyres said the find was "so cool".
"To me, this is the single most powerful piece of evidence for liquid water at Mars that has been discovered by the Opportunity rover," the Cornell University researcher told journalists.
"We have found sulphates before. Those sulphates were formed somewhere – we don’t know where.
"They’ve been moved around by the wind, they’ve been mixed in with other materials – it’s a big, jumbled-up, fascinating mess.
"This stuff formed right here. There was a fracture in the rock, water flowed through it, gypsum was precipitated from the water. End of story. There’s no ambiguity."
Prof Squyres was giving an update on the rover mission here at the 2011 American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, the largest annual gathering of Earth and planetary scientists.
Opportunity was put on the Red Planet back on 25 January, 2004, with the expectation that it would complete at least three months of operations.
But the robot has exceeded everyone’s expectations and continues to operate despite some worn mechanisms and instrument glitches.
Since its landing on the Meridiani plain just south of Mars’ equator, the robot has trundled more than 30km to the rim of a huge crater known as Endeavour.