Share & Connect
Earlier this month, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) once again found groundbreaking evidence that water once existed on Mars. The rover, Opportunity, has discovered a long, thin vein of gypsum deposit, found on the edge of the crater, Endeavor.
In January 2004, NASA sent the twin rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, to Mars as a part of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission to find clues that water once existed. Opportunity and Spirit discovered gypsum to be as much of a common mineral on Mars as it is on Earth. Gypsum, which is used as drywall and as an ingredient for plaster, is found evaporated in sedimentary environments, particularly in saline water beds (or seawater) containing high amounts of dissolved calcium sulfate (CaSO4).
Since their landing on Mars, the rovers found, in the northern sand dunes, numerous pieces of gypsum, which were blown by winds and, hence, mixed with other minerals and materials. These dunes are similar to the White Sands National Monument located in New Mexico, where the sands are comprised of gypsum crystals. This discovery is one of the few that proves that water existed on Mars, but from where the gypsum originates baffles scientists.
Sometime in early 2010, Spirit had discontinued its mission due to being stuck and its eventual inability to communicate. Opportunity, on the other hand, has remained alive and active, and eventually found the gypsum deposit, slightly jutting out from the bedrock. The vein is approximately 2 cm wide and 50 cm long.
Although this discovery may seem redundant with the ones made in the past, it turns out that this strand of gypsum is more significant than the pieces found in dunes. Not only does it appear to have formed in place, but the deposit tells us that water once flowed through a crevice long ago.
“That can’t be said for other gypsum seen on Mars or for other water-related minerals Opportunity has found,” remarks Steve Squyres, a planetary scientist at Cornell University. “It’s not uncommon on Earth, but on Mars, it’s the kind of thing that makes geologists jump out of their chairs.”
Opportunity and Spirit have analyzed most Martian areas to be acidic – and definitely not suitable for life. However, the spot in which the gypsum deposit was found does contain the substances that cause acidity. Thus, the water may have been more neutral. Not only is the vein a sure sign that Mars once did have water, it also proves that the red and dusty planet may have been more habitable than we thought.