by Dr. Ken Kremer
NASA’s long lived Opportunity rover has discovered the most scientifically compelling evidence yet for the flow of liquid water on ancient Mars. The startling revelation comes in the form of a bright vein of the mineral gypsum located at the foothills of an enormous crater named Endeavour, where the intrepid robot was recently traversing in November 2011.
The light-toned vein is named “Homestake” and was found as the rover was driving northwards along the western edge of a ridge dubbed ‘Cape York’ – which is a low lying segment of the eroded rim of Endeavour Crater. Opportunity was scouting out a “Winter Haven” location to spend the approaching Martian winter.
Researchers announced the finding on Dec. 7 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco.
“This gypsum vein is the single most powerful piece of evidence for liquid water at Mars that has been discovered by the Opportunity rover,” said Prof Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., Principal Investigator for Opportunity.
Opportunity arrived at the rim of the 14 mile (22 kilometer) wide Endeavour Crater in mid-August 2011 following an epic three year trek across treacherous dune fields from her prior investigative target at the ½ mile wide Victoria Crater – a feat once thought unimaginable. All told, Opportunity has driven more than 34 km ( 21 mi) since landing on the Red Planet way back in 2004 for a mere 90 sol mission.
The light-toned vein is apparently composed of the mineral gypsum and was deposited as a result of precipitation from percolating pools of liquid water which flowed on the surface of ancient Mars, billions of years ago. Liquid water is an essential prerequisite for life as we know it.
The panoramic mosaic below right illustrating the exact spot which also was published by Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) on 12 Dec 2011. It was created by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo.
APOD link: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap111212.html
The team believes the gypsum vein is the dihydrate of calcium sulfate; CaSO4•2H2O. On Earth, gypsum is used for making drywall and plaster of Paris.
“This tells a slam-dunk story that water flowed through underground fractures in the rock,” said Squyres.
The ‘Homestake’ vein is about 1 centimeter wide and 40 to 50 centimeters long. Veins are a geologic indication of the past flow of liquid water. The evidence for flowing liquid water at Endeavour crater is even more powerful than the silica deposits found by Spirit around the Home Plate volcanic feature at Gusev Crater a few years ago.
Learn all about Mars and Asteroid Vesta in 3 D at my Jan. 11 lecture at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia at 8 PM.
Opportunity discovered water related mineral vein at Endeavour Crater in November 2011. The Homestake vein is composed of gypsum, or calcium sulfate dehydrate and indicates the ancient flow of liquid water on Mars. This panoramic mosaic illustrates the exact spot of the vein discovery. It was published on APOD on 12 Dec 2011.
Ken’s mosaic creation of “Opportunity at Santa Maria Crater” on Mars was selected as one of the 100 best space images of 2011 by Astronomy magazine for their November 2011 Special Photo Issue – see p. 34-35. Opportunity was celebrating 7 Years on Mars.
APOD link: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap110129.html
Read more about Opportunity, Curiosity and NASA’s 2011 Highlights in Ken Kremer’s features online at Universe Today:
Astronomy Outreach by Ken Kremer
Rittenhouse Astronomical Association (RAS), Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, PA, Jan. 11, Wed , 8 PM, “8 Years of Mars Rovers — Mars and Vesta in 3 D”.
New Jersey Astronomical Association NJAA- Vorhees State Park: High Bridge, NJ, March 24, Sat., 8 PM “Atlantis, the End of America’s Shuttle Program and What’s Beyond for NASA”. Website: http://www.njaa.org/
Ken Kremer: Spaceflight magazine & Universe Today
Ken has a selection of his Shuttle photos and Mars mosaics for sale as postcards and frameable prints.