NASA's Opportunity Rover Finds Evidence Of Drinkable Water On Mars [REPORT]

By iScienceTimes Staff on June 10, 2013 1:05 PM EDT

mars opportunity
Mars rover Opportunity has found evidence that neutral water once existed on Mars. Previous evidence of water on Mars has pointed to more acidic water, which isn't as friendly to life as neutral water. (Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

NASA's Mars rover Opportunity has discovered evidence of drinkable water on the planet, ten years into its mission.

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While the newest Mars rover, Curiosity, has stolen the spotlight recently, this is a major achievement for the Opportunity rover, and probably the biggest discovery of its career.

Along Mars' Endeavour Crater, Opportunity spotted clay minerals rich in an aluminum chemical signature that suggests they were formed by water. The rock, which NASA is calling "Esperance," was examined using the rover's "alpha particle X-ray spectrometer." NASA said that, "Esperance's composition is higher in aluminum and silica, and lower in calcium and iron, than other rocks Opportunity has examined in more than nine years on Mars."

Opportunity did not find water on Mars, but did find further evidence to support the idea that there was at one point water on the Red Planet.

"This is water you could drink," said Opportunity principal investigator Steve Squyres of Cornell University.

The rock is different from previous water-formed stones that the Opportunity rover has found. Earlier evidence of water which Opportunity found was more acidic, which could have supported some form of life, but not as much as neutral water could have.

"This is water that was probably much more favorable in its chemistry, in its pH, in its level of acidity, for things like prebiotic chemistry -- the kind of chemistry that could lead to the origin of life," said Squyres.

The Opportunity discovery comes on the heels of similar discoveries made by the Curiosity rover, which found rounded pebbles on the Martian surface, evidence that a river flowed on the planet.

"It's really striking to me how similar are the stories that are being told by the rocks that were recently investigated by Opportunity at Endeavour Crater, and the rocks that were recently investigated by Curiosity at Gale Crater," Squyres said.

In January 2004, the rovers Opportunity and Spirit both landed on Mars in search of signs of water activity. Both rovers found evidence of the more acidic water. NASA lost communication with Spirit in 2010, and it is presumed dead, but Opportunity is still chugging along. The rover has broken the U.S. record for distance traveled on another world, having wheeled along for some 22 miles. It will soon break the Soviet Union's record of 23 miles.  

NASA says they are thrilled to see the Opportunity still making important discoveries so far into its journey.

"The rover could have a catastrophic failure at any moment," said Opportunity project manager John Callas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "So each day is a gift."

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