NASA: Second Mars Rover Confirms Existence of Water on Red Planet


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has reported that its 10-year-old Mars rover, Opportunity, has become the second to confirm the existence of water on the so-called “Red Planet.”  Opportunity reportedly found the evidence of this condition for life in samples taken from the rim of a deep Mars crater known as “Endeavor” that is believed to be about 3.7 billion years old. The discovery reflects the earliest evidence of water having existed on Mars. The past existence of  less dry, rocky and harsh conditions on the planet is reflected in a group of rocks at Endeavor known as the Matjevic Formation.

Previous evidence of the past existence of water on Mars, the Red Planet, was gathered by the Mars rover, Curiosity. In September, Curiosity found traces of water evident in Martian soil. Then, in December, the rover’s findings indicated that a freshwater lake of the life-giving liquid had likely been present on the planet approximately 3.5 billion years ago. The confirmation by a second rover, Opportunity, that water existed on Mars, gives scientists and researchers increased hope for the possibility of finding evidence that life could, in fact, have existed sustainably there at some point.

The findings of both Curiosity and Opportunity indicate to scientists that at one time fresh, drinkable groundwater may have been flowing on the planet but that it became more alkaline and acidic over time.

According to NASA, Opportunity isn’t able to perform the same kinds of tests as Curiosity to determine all of the organic chemicals that might be present in the samples it gathers. Nonetheless, the researchers continue to be pleased with Opportunity’s performance after 10 years and approximately 24 miles of Martian surface covered. The Mars rover was originally intended to operate for just 90 days. Opportunity is still going strong even in the face of one of its six wheels going bad and the existence of “an arthritic robotic arm.” The rover landed with a twin, Spirit, that worked on the planet for about six years before being declared “dead.” It is currently hoped that Opportunity will be able to use its powers of observation to assist NASA scientists in determining how rocks were formed on the planet.

This new discovery is only one of several credited to Opportunity. The Rover is also credited with the recent discovery of the now famous Martian “jelly doughnut” rock discovered earlier this month. The mysterious rock showed up seemingly out of nowhere in Opportunity’s view. It is theorized that it either landed nearby the rover as a result of an impact or that one of Opportunity’s wheels simply kicked it up onto the soil. Examination has revealed that it’s unique composition seems to include high levels of iron, sulfur, phosphorous and manganese. According to an Opportunity researcher “It represents pretty substantial deposition of salts and oxides.” Heated debate about what the rock means for scientists has been ongoing since the discovery. The rock was also discovered on the Endeavor crater where Opportunity is hard at work these days.

Now that this second Mars rover, Opportunity, has confirmed other evidence of the past existence of water on the Red Planet,  NASA scientists are anxiously awaiting what the next remarkable discovery will be for this history-making machine.

By Michele Wessel


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