Magazine article Science News

Oceans of Data Point to Ancient Martian Sea

Magazine article Science News

Oceans of Data Point to Ancient Martian Sea

Article excerpt

A robotic rover on Mars has radioed to Earth strong evidence that some rocks near the Red Planet's equator formed from sediments in a shallow, ancient ocean. In announcing the finding, scientists have identified a promising site at which to look for remains of life.

"If you have any interest in searching for fossils on Mars, then this is the place you want to go,' declares Ed Weiler, NASA associate administrator for space science in Washington, D.C. Lead Mars-rover scientist Steve Squyres of Cornell University and his colleagues unveiled the images, taken with the rover Opportunity, at a March 23 NASA press briefing.

The surface of the region explored by Opportunity is bone-dry. But detailed images that the rover has taken of a shallow crater, dubbed Eagle, indicate that an outcrop of rocks there was laid down by a briny body of flowing water. Opportunity landed on Jan. 25 in the crater, which is part of an equatorial plain called Meridiani Planum.

"We think Opportunity is parked on what was once the shoreline of a salty sea," says Squyres.

The rover's magnifying lens shows that rocks in the outcrop contain fine, rippled layers that are at various angles rather than in orderly, parallel rows. The layers can best be explained as having been caused by ripples of water flowing above a sandy surface, says rover scientist John Grotzinger of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He estimates that the water was at least 5 centimeters deep and gently flowed at 10 cm to 50 cm per second. …

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