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NASA's "Opportunity" Rover Finds New Evidence For Once-Habitable Mars

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the feeling-a-bit-damp dept.

Mars 40

nedko.m writes "NASA's Mars rover 'Opportunity' found clay minerals in an ancient rock on the rim of the Endeavour Crater on Mars. The discovery suggests that neutral-pH water — slightly salty, and neither too acidic nor too alkaline for life — once flowed through the area, probably during the first billion years of Martian history. Opportunity's latest discovery fits well with one made recently on the other side of the planet by the rover's bigger, younger cousin Curiosity, which found strong evidence that its landing site could have supported microbial life in the ancient past. Such observations could help scientists map out Mars' transition from a relatively warm and wet world long ago to the cold and dry planet we know today"

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40 comments

Doh... (4, Funny)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#43952139)

NASA, those innocently naive guys... they should have asked NSA before sending in the rovers.

(ducks)

Re:Doh... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43952217)

NASA, those innocently naive guys... they should have asked NSA before sending in the rovers.

(ducks)

NASA is part of the NSA. Who do you think puts their spy satellites up?

And it's obvious that the NSA needs to keep on eye on Mars, too. There have been credible [imdb.com] threats [imdb.com] to Earth from that planet and I think the NSA's budget should be increased to *bahDaDa* ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS!

Re:Doh... (1)

geogob (569250) | about a year ago | (#43954115)

NASA doens't launch spy satellite. The air force does, and that mostly from Vandenberg AFB.

Re:Doh... (1)

tragedy (27079) | about a year ago | (#43954765)

The really sad thing is that, of the two movies you mentioned, _Mars Attacks!_ has a more credible initial premise than the recent version of _War of the Worlds_. Seriously, which is a more credible invasion plan: send your ships to Earth to attack or bury your ships on Earth in preparation for an attack on people who don't even live there at the time?

Mars can wait (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43952661)

NSA is still busy spying on us

They don't have time for Martians, yet

water on mars (0, Troll)

Ruede (824831) | about a year ago | (#43952193)

yeah we get it. it has been on the news the past whatever years.
there may have been water on it. so what. find real water on mars and stop annoy us with "news" like that

Re:water on mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43952211)

Are you trying to suggest that NASA is being lazy because they can't find surface water in a 5-10 millibar environment?

Re:water on mars (0)

DragonTHC (208439) | about a year ago | (#43952405)

wrong phase man!

Re:water on mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43953815)

Whoosh!

Re:water on mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43954145)

Wrong Phase Man was my father. He was killed by the evil forces of Sublimation and Evaporation. But not a day goes by when I don't imagine that I feel a wisp of him float past.

Re:water on mars (4, Insightful)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#43952223)

No need for cynicism, this is all about politics and a public that doesn't recognise the immense scientific value of sampling a new world, with or without life. The endless stream of articles about water -> life from NASA is a pretty astute move if they want to keep getting funding.

Re:water on mars (4, Interesting)

mcgrew (92797) | about a year ago | (#43952513)

there may have been water on it. so what.

Finding evidence of past water is an indication that it might have had life. I don't know what would be more interesting, to find that Mars once had life, or that it was habitable for a billion years and never developed life.

But anyway, that's what.

Re:water on mars (4, Insightful)

Tom (822) | about a year ago | (#43953685)

Exactly. Life in the solar system would change our view of life in the universe.

Right now, the only instance of a planet developing life is Earth. We extrapolate from there. But the big question (intelligent life) also hangs on the probability of life evolving into intelligent life.

If we find that life is actually a pretty common event in the universe, but it rarely evolves beyond bacterial or small organisms, it might change our equations on how likely we'll find some other space-faring race.

But if we find that life is rare, it'll also change it.

The combination of these two makes a pretty damn big differences on all "are we alone?" questions.

Re:water on mars (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about a year ago | (#43956045)

Exactly. Life in the solar system would change our view of life in the universe.

Right now, the only instance of a planet developing life is Earth. We extrapolate from there. But the big question (intelligent life) also hangs on the probability of life evolving into intelligent life.

If we find that life is actually a pretty common event in the universe, but it rarely evolves beyond bacterial or small organisms, it might change our equations on how likely we'll find some other space-faring race.

But if we find that life is rare, it'll also change it.

The combination of these two makes a pretty damn big differences on all "are we alone?" questions.

Your logic is backwards. What we know with certainty is that life in the universe is rare, as far as we know earth is the only planet that has it. Intelligent life is even rarer, given the biomass of earth. Everything else about life elsewhere is simply hypothesis and statistics, but unproven.

Therefore, your statement should work from the what if we find life instead of what if we don't find life. As for now, the answer is "Yes, as far as we know we are all alone."

Re:water on mars (4, Interesting)

Tom (822) | about a year ago | (#43958781)

What we know with certainty is that life in the universe is rare, as far as we know earth is the only planet that has it.

That's total nonsense. And you contradict yourself in the next sentence:

Everything else about life elsewhere is simply hypothesis and statistics, but unproven.

We know nothing about life in the universe. Nothing. Zero, nada, zilch, null. Until we have a much larger data sample, it is all just theoretical. Completely true, and until the intervention of interstellar travel, unavoidable.

That is exactly why we're looking for any clues we might find. That includes not only Mars, but also Europa, for example, where some scientists believe we might find primitive life.

We know for sure that there's life on Earth. We can exclude most of the other planets and moons as they can not possibly sustain any life based on anything we can imagine.

But that's just the solar system. For the rest of the universe, we have, for example, just recently changed our estimate about how common planets are. We thought that most suns wouldn't have any, now we think almost the opposite.

We have just started having methods to find planets of earth size.

But still, life somewhere else in the solar system would be a pretty big deal.

Intelligent life is even rarer, given the biomass of earth.

Wrong. Biomass is not the deciding factor. Right now, our sample size indicates that 100% of planets with life at all will bring about intelligent life. But that could just be due to the anthropic principle. We don't know if Earth is a rare exception, or if there's something to evolution that will result in intelligence in most cases.

Again, getting closer to an answer here, in either direction, would be a pretty big deal.

Re:water on mars (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about a year ago | (#43962345)

What we know with certainty is that life in the universe is rare, as far as we know earth is the only planet that has it.

That's total nonsense. And you contradict yourself in the next sentence:

Everything else about life elsewhere is simply hypothesis and statistics, but unproven.

We know nothing about life in the universe. Nothing. Zero, nada, zilch, null. Until we have a much larger data sample, it is all just theoretical. Completely true, and until the intervention of interstellar travel, unavoidable.

That is exactly why we're looking for any clues we might find. That includes not only Mars, but also Europa, for example, where some scientists believe we might find primitive life.

We know for sure that there's life on Earth. We can exclude most of the other planets and moons as they can not possibly sustain any life based on anything we can imagine.

But that's just the solar system. For the rest of the universe, we have, for example, just recently changed our estimate about how common planets are. We thought that most suns wouldn't have any, now we think almost the opposite.

We have just started having methods to find planets of earth size.

But still, life somewhere else in the solar system would be a pretty big deal.

Intelligent life is even rarer, given the biomass of earth.

Wrong. Biomass is not the deciding factor. Right now, our sample size indicates that 100% of planets with life at all will bring about intelligent life. But that could just be due to the anthropic principle. We don't know if Earth is a rare exception, or if there's something to evolution that will result in intelligence in most cases.

Again, getting closer to an answer here, in either direction, would be a pretty big deal.

I think we are arguing the same thing. In addition, I do agree that if it turns out that earth is not the only planet that harbors life, that would be a really big thing. My point being that all the statistics in the universe only speak to the probability that their might be life elsewhere, but those probabilities are based on really simplistic models such as a planet being in the right zone for water (when water is just one necessary ingredient).

As for the intelligent life versus biomass. You are only looking at the present day. The earth has a 2billion year history of life and intelligent life has only been around for the smallest fraction of a percent of that. If you look at the entirety of what we know about life on the planet earth, intelligent life is only a recent phenomenon and of all of the billions of species, if not trillions, that have ever existed, to our knowledge, only one is intelligent. That would still seem to qualify as rare from a scientific perspective. In reality, with only a sample size of one to go with, hypothesizing about life on a planet is a lot like Schrodinger's cat. We won't know until we look. And if we do find life, then as to whether or not there is intelligent life is another box that we will have to open and look in to find the answer.

Re:water on mars (1)

Tom (822) | about a year ago | (#43982593)

Agreed, especially on the 2nd point. We have almost no data on how long intelligent life persists. There's one theory that I forgot the name of that says most intelligent species will probably wipe themselves out once they discover nuclear war.

Re:water on mars (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about a year ago | (#43956021)

there may have been water on it. so what.

Finding evidence of past water is an indication that it might have had life. I don't know what would be more interesting, to find that Mars once had life, or that it was habitable for a billion years and never developed life.

But anyway, that's what.

Finding evidence of past water is only an indication that there used to be water. Finding evidence of past water along with copious amounts of carbon, phosphourous, oxygen and a bunch of other minimal requirements would indicate that there might have been life, but just like the abscense of water would make the likelihood of life extremely poor, the abscences of thirty or forty other requirements would do the same thing. First you need the basic building blocks. Then you need them in the right quantities. And finally, you need whatever catalyst or energy source triggered the whole process. All of that has to come together at the right time and place or it doesn't work.

Re:water on mars (1)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | about a year ago | (#43953145)

Give em some time. After some more excavation, they'll find the remains of our ancient civilization that moved to Earth later on (Mars was getting cold).

kudos, of course (2)

excelsior_gr (969383) | about a year ago | (#43952215)

This is nice and all, but I think the real news here is that Opportunity is, although aged, still alive and kicking.

Re:kudos, of course (3, Informative)

Tim the Gecko (745081) | about a year ago | (#43952407)

It's also closing in on the off-planet driving record [space.com] . However, the current record was set by Lunokhod 2 on the Moon and isn't known very exactly.

Re:kudos, of course (0)

Tablizer (95088) | about a year ago | (#43954369)

However, the current record was set by Lunokhod 2 on the Moon and isn't known very exactly.

In Soviet Russia, Moon measures you

Re:kudos, of course (1)

Trepidity (597) | about a year ago | (#43952517)

Design basis lifespan: 90 Mars days (~93 Earth days)

Actual operating lifespan: >9 years so far

Bygones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43952301)

Why is it news that it was "once habitable"
Please alert me when they determine if it was "once inhabited".

Re:Bygones (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about a year ago | (#43954439)

It's interesting that why Earth was still an erupting lump of steam and lava, Mars was rather "Earthlike" in terms of our perspective.

This suggests life started on Mars and migrated to Earth when it mellowed; a passing of the baton.

Re:Bygones (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43957375)

Please look at The History of Earth [youtube.com] to see how the Earth formed, where it got its water and first amino acids/etc. You should see that most of the water came from space and similarly Mars and Venus would have had water put onto them around the same time. Not mentioned in the video is the magnetic field effect in keeping light elements in the atmosphere. Please look up rotation speed of Venus and its lack of magnetic field and the effect of solar radiation on venus and then look at the strange shape of the magnetic field on Mars, that has a similar day/night cycle time as the Earth. None of these discoveries suggest strongly that life emigrated to Earth from Mars, however they do suggest that proto-life could have formed on Mars (look at how the salt content formed in the oceans on Earth and early life's effect on salt and rock).

Yea, right (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43952317)

After these bozo last declaration on non-carbon based life who would be naive enough to believe anything NASA would say?

Re:Yea, right (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about a year ago | (#43954403)

Non-carbon-based? When was that?

The big mess-up I remember was the Clinton "Mars worm" announcement fiasco.

This is why we need "meatbags" on site (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43952855)

Flame all you want, but the truth is, without a human or two on the planet, both the research is ultraslow, and the interest is ultralow. On slashdot there is this misconception that robots can fully replace humans for space exploration. That's true only if you have unlimited time and funds, because those rovers need people to be moved, inch by inch, day by day, year by year. That costs money, and it's very low on results per dollar. Organizing and launching a human mission is expensive in absolute terms, but very cheap in relative terms compared to rovers, because of the 40 minutes it takes for a signal feedback.

And as for interest, it's clear that even on slashdot, robotic probes are mostly yawned at - look at the minute number of comments here.

Re:This is why we need "meatbags" on site (2)

geogob (569250) | about a year ago | (#43954183)

Such a news is by most readers, even at slashdot, frowned upon as its impact and relevance is little understood. I doubt it has anything to do with some misconception on robotics, which I frankly, never really noticed as you mention.

NASA's PR crew also had in the past the bad habit of over hyping mundane or unverified news to get media attention. Crying wolf didn't make their announcements popular among educated readers.

Water water? or water as in liquid state of ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43952863)

NASA likes to sell the idea of water and "habitable" and goes to great lengths to make assertions of such and same.
It's the funding & media game.
I guess there were canals on mars once, like Venice, and life as in Mars Attacks!
Hard to get around hard radiation and a lack of atmosphere or complete hydro logic cycle.
Perhaps a large icy comet impacted on occasion, producing flows of methane or water before quickly evaporating thin the thin dry martian "air"
Perhaps the water was captured by Earth in what is now known as Oceans, only to quickly evaporate into space to carbon heat sequestration ; )

Re:Water water? or water as in liquid state of ? (1)

armanox (826486) | about a year ago | (#43953595)

I think they're trying to link this to saying Mars probably had an atmosphere at one point in time.

Three words (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43953187)

Martian fossil fuels

what I want to see are fossils! (3, Interesting)

k6mfw (1182893) | about a year ago | (#43953631)

like a trilobite of sorts. however, our rovers don't have a big enough shovel. It seems many people are getting bored with Mars, it has been said (and I agree) don't send another rover unless you bring something back. It would be nice to have another rover that can explore regions where geologists really want to go (but difficult to do the engineering to get it there), but with NASA has a flat budget and it will become more difficult to simply sustain the budgets as they are.

OTOH with so many spacecraft that are operating beyond their planned lifetime, these operating costs drain funding from developmental programs (should we let them die, i.e. Spirit and Opportunity, so we can get on with new stuff?). What about spacecraft to Europa (there's lots more water there, and is there little fishies under the ice?) unless the radiation is so intense don't bother to plan a mission which survivability is zilch?

Regarding Curiosity, it is providing extensive data per sampling, mapping, photos, etc. and provides much excitement for researchers studying the planet. I think issue is such excitement is seen as pretty dry stuff among the general public. Perhaps Mars has a identity problem. We have this huge fascination that seems fueled by science fiction and we get caught up in a human mission to Mars, and one person on another forum called such a mission a myth (it ain't gonna happen with current budgets and only chemical propulsion). Excluding Dennis Tito's flyby which seems to be feasible but not easy.

Re:what I want to see are fossils! (1)

tragedy (27079) | about a year ago | (#43954787)

It seems many people are getting bored with Mars, it has been said (and I agree) don't send another rover unless you bring something back.

Yes, you're right, many people are boring idiots.

Same Old Song (1)

Jules IV (1010773) | about a year ago | (#43953977)

Mars supported life when it was 'alive': its core was still active, shielding the planet from gamma rays and other radiations. Now it is a useless piece of red dust and rocks, no seismic activity, no earthquakes, no magnetic activity. Its a dead end... We'll find some other proofs of early life on the surface, might find some late fossils hidden under the surface, raise a flag and move on to deal with our terrestrial challenges, as usual!

101! (1)

Autonomous Crowhard (205058) | about a year ago | (#43969019)

It was just less than two weeks ago that NASA announced [slashdot.org] the 100th discovery of water on Mars. Being the true trend setters that they are, NASA continues to discover water where it is previously been discovered before.

If only we knew ... (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about a year ago | (#43978237)

neither too acidic nor too alkaline for life

Wouldn't it be lovely to know what the limits of acidity (or alkalinity) are for life in general. We don't even know, for sure, what the limits are for life on Earth, because we don't have a full catalogue of life forms on earth. We don't have any representatives of life on other planets, and we don't know if there are other possible chemistries on which life can work.

Even within a DNA-and-protein chemistry, we don't know the real limits ; we don't know of any existing lifeforms with triple- or quadruple- stranded DNA, but the basic stranding configurations are not wildly unstable, so it would be a brave chemist to declare that such a system is impossible, they're merely not-known.

(Some) existing lifeforms on Earth can live reasonably happily at a pH down to approaching 1.0 ; alkalinity is a bit more of a constraint, and I can't recall hearing of anything living at much higher than pH 10 ; but that's at surface temperatures and pressures. what the limits are at, say, 5km below water level, is a rather more open question.

In the not impossible (to the best of anyone's knowledge) for life to exist in liquid ammonia ; that's going to change the whole relative importance of hydrogen ions compared to hydroxyl ions.

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