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On Mars, rocks record watery past

Sunset image as seen from Meridiani Planum. [Image Science]
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

You may have already seen headlines like, "Mars Rocks Tell Watery Story" and "Rovers Finds History of a Wet, Warm Mars." Science's Mars special issue tells the story behind the story. In the special issue, the scientists behind the headlines the people who are studying Mars via two space buggies -- document exactly what they've learned during the first 90 martian solar days of Opportunity's journey. Opportunity is one of the two Mars rovers that have been driving around Mars, busily collecting information since Januay of 2004. The mars special issue appears in the 03 December 2004 issue of the journal Science.

The scientific papers provide some of the first rock science, or geology, that points to liquid water on Mars. Analysis of Opportunity's pinching, probing, grinding and photographing the martian surface show that water was involved in the formation and alteration of layers of sedimentary rock on Mars.

Left: Close-up, enhanced natural-color image of "blueberries." Right: Densely packed population of rounded and sorted "blueberry" fragments that armor the ripples in Meridianii Planum. Image Science.
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

This finding is consistent with scientists' predictions that Mars had a warmer and wetter past, according to an overview article by Steven Squyres from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and his colleagues.

The researchers uncovered no evidence of life on Mars though they did find signs of a time when the conditions might have been right for life on Mars. In an article in Science that summarizes this new Mars research, Jeffrey Kargel from the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona suggests that scientists assume that life exists on Mars -- until we are absolutely sure that no life there. This means that scientists should be very careful that no microorganisms from earth are released on Mars.

It also means that scientists who are lucky enough to study the dirt, rocks or dust that they hope to someday bring to Earth from Mars ensure that no potential, microscopic life from Mars is released on Earth. These precautions would protect life on Earth and any creatures that might be present on Mars.

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