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Thursday, December 7, 2000

Evidence of Water Found on Mars!

Sedimentary Rock Formations.
Sedimentary Rock Formations.
Credit: NASA
(NASA) - In what ultimately may be their most significant discovery yet, Mars scientists say high-resolution pictures showing layers of sedimentary rock paint a portrait of an ancient Mars that long ago may have featured numerous lakes and shallow seas.

"We see distinct, thick layers of rock within craters and other depressions for which a number of lines of evidence indicate that they may have formed in lakes or shallow seas. We have never before had this type of irrefutable evidence that sedimentary rocks are widespread on Mars," said Dr. Michael Malin, principal investigator for the Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft at Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS), San Diego, CA. "These images tell us that early Mars was very dynamic and may have been a lot more like Earth than many of us had been thinking."

Such layered rock structures where there were once lakes are common on Earth. The pancake-like layers of sediment compressed and cemented to form a rock record of the planet's history.

The regions of sedimentary layers on Mars are spread out and scattered around the planet. They are most common within impact craters of Western Arabia Terra, the inter-crater plains of northern Terra Meridiani, the chasms of the Valles Marineris, and parts of the northeastern Hellas Basin rim. The scientists compare the rock layers on Mars to features seen in the American Southwest, such as the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert of Arizona.

"We caution that the Mars images tell us that the story is actually quite complicated and yet the implications are tremendous. Mars has preserved for us, in its sedimentary rocks, a record of events unlike any that occur on the planet today," said Dr. Ken Edgett, staff scientist at MSSS.

"On Earth, sedimentary rocks preserve the surface history of our planet, and within that history, the fossil record of life. It is reasonable to look for evidence of past life on Mars in these remarkably similar sedimentary layers," said Malin. "What is new in our work is that Mars has shown us that there are many more places in which to look, and that these materials may date back to the earliest times of Martian history."

We have only solved one little piece of a tremendous puzzle," Malin said. "There is no illustration on the box to show us what it is supposed to look like when it is completed and we are sure most of the pieces are missing."

This is changing the way we think about the early history of Mars -- a time perhaps more than 3.5 billion years ago.

- posted by Alex @ 15:54 EST