Widespread Presence of Certain Minerals Indicate Wetter Mars
November 26, 2008 -- Scientists have reported the extensive presence of hydrated silicas on Mars after analyzing data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been gathering information on the planet since 2006. The data, published in the November issue of the journal Geology, also show these water-bearing minerals in areas that were formed less than 2 billion years ago, well into the planet’s 4.5 billion year life.
Hydrated silicas, a class of minerals that includes opals, typically contain between 3 percent and 10 percent water, and require liquid water to form. Finding these and related minerals in quantity on the Mars surface provides another clue in the ongoing question of Mars' watery past — a precondition to the viability of life as we know it.
As this planet's most "Earth-like" neighbor, Mars is the most logical place to begin the search for life beyond our planet. If scientists can determine the planetary context that creates a habitable environment through the study of Mars, it could have dramatic implications for finding the possibility of life in other parts of the universe.
In 2007 the National Research Council report An Astrobiology Strategy for the Exploration of Mars examined the future path of Mars research, based on the body of newer data gathered from the red planet, such as evidence of water and the possibility of methane. Because of the profound repercussions of finding past or present life on another planet, the report recommends that the Mars Exploration Program focus on the search for life using a broad, multidisciplinary approach.