Opportunity finds evidence of ancient aqueous environment on Mars, NASA has reported today. While venturing around the rim of Endeavor Crater 10 years after landing on Mars the decade old rover collected samples of clay material that could only have formed with low acidity, ph neutral water. This has been interpreted by scientists as evidence strong enough to justify the theory that Mars had potentially life-sustaining water on its surface billions of years ago. However, researchers were quick to point out that the possibility of habitation is not proof of habitation, and that even proving microbial life once existed on Earth was a massive effort. This newest discovery does lend additional credence to the idea of one day sending humans to colonize Mars, as it removes a major hurdle of how water can be available for colonizing astronauts. Historically space has been tight on space missions, the amount of water needed to sustain an early colony would take up too much room and be too heavy to launch with them.
Opportunity has been trundling along the surface of Mars since 2004 and has made many discoveries in that time, including atmospheric composition, magma interactions,and meteorite landing sites. But this is easily the biggest bombshell so far, changing the image of Mars from that a desert planet to one that can be made habitable. In the last decade the rover has covered a wide loop of about 24 miles, and is roughly located on the far side of Mars from the Curiosity rover which landed in August 2012. The recent discovery of the potential of water on Mars gives NASA scientists new hope for the manned-missions to the red planet planned for the 2030’s. Since water is the basis of life, after Opportunity finds evidence of ancient aqueous environment on Mars the knowledge that a secure supply can be obtained for future astronauts to survive off of puts a major question of the viability of the mission to rest. With the possibility of water under the surface, it is much more likely that a colony can get a foot hold on the red planet.
Opportunitys discovery is corroborated by Curiosity, whose wanderings across the Martian surface have revealed silt deposits that indicate ancient water flows and water in soil of Mars. The red planet has long been a favourite for potential human colonization due to its similar composition and size of Earth. The biggest obstacles in making that dream a reality have long been the lack of breathable atmosphere and the lack of water. After Opportunity finds evidence of ancient aqueous environment on Mars, scientists are buzzing anew the planets potential. Late last year over 200,000 potential colonists volunteered to be sent on a one way trip to Mars to set up initial living spaces and begin the long road to making the planet habitable to humans. This newest good news helps to cement the idea that man may one day leave his home and has inspired a generation to look to the stars with more than just simple curiosity.
By Daniel O’Brien