Ancient life may have thrived beneath Martian rocks
Washington, May 7 (ANI): Underneath their rough exterior, some rocks on Mars may have sheltered life in the ancient past, according to a new study.
An examination of data collated by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity reveals deposits that, on Earth, are only created by water moving through the rock.
"There are plenty of places on Earth where organisms live in places where water is flowing through fractures in rock," Discovery News quoted lead scientist Steve Squyres of Cornell University as telling SPACE.com.
"That's definitely a possibility at this location."
The water, which has since evaporated, could have offered a home for life billions of years ago.
Opportunity also turned up proof of hot, moving water within the rocks in the past, likely caused by the impact that scooped out the crater, Odyssey.
In August 2011, Opportunity completed a three-year journey to Endeavour, a 14 mile (22 kilometre) crater formed in the early history of the planet. The Rover studied different kinds of rocks.
One of the outcroppings, Homestake, flaunts evidence of once housing watery environments in the cracks within the rocks. A flat ridge only a third of an inch (1 centimetre) tall and 20 inches (50 cm) long, Homestake includes deposits of a sulphate mineral known as gypsum within the rock.
Water, slowly leaking from the ground into the rock, carried sulphate with it. As fractures in the rock opened up, the gypsum was deposited inside.
"Gypsum veins are common in all sorts of settings on Earth," Squyres said.
"They always form when water flows through the rock and precipitates out gypsum in the fractures."
Before the water evaporated, life could have thrived within the cracks, Squyres asserted.
"Organisms can live in fractures of rock, as long as there's water present," he said.
Squyres went on to warn that there is no evidence of life in Homestake today, but "the watery conditions that would have been necessary - the requirement of water being there - was present."
The international team also studied rocky outcroppings sent flying when a second impact formed the smaller Odyssey crater. Only 62 by 75 feet (19 by 23 meters), the elliptical crater rests on the rim of Endeavour.
Opportunity analysed an outcropping known as Tisdale, and found that it contained zinc, a chemical element often associated with hydrothermal activity.
"If you go to zinc mines on Earth, they're generally in places where hydrothermal processes have deposited zinc," Squyres said.
Such places are most likely near volcanic activity, or other processes in the crust that heat the water around it.
On Mars, the movement of hot water was probably jumpstarted by the blow from the rock that formed Odyssey.
"A crater that size involves a lot of energy," Squyres said.
When the large body slashed the surface of the Red Planet, it possibly heated water already contained within the crust or at the surface.
However, such water would only been moving for the time being and would be unlikely to create long-term habitats for life.
The impact-driven movement of water is probably unconnected to the gypsum-rich rocks and their habitable environments, Squyres added.
The study has been published in the online version of journal Science. (ANI)
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