March 5, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 81  

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NASA rover proves water on Mars

By Dave Ward
Gazette Staff

NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity has uncovered proof there was once water, and therefore possible life, on the red planet.

Along with a source of energy, water is the key component in the creation of life, explained Alain Bernstain, head of the Mars science program for the Canadian Space Agency. “Finding water in a liquid form, even in the history of Mars, is major step,” he said, referencing the larger goal of searching for possible life on Earth’s favourite neighbour.

Bernstain said scientists previously found evidence of markings on the surface that suggested flash floods. New evidence, however, shows chemicals and markings on rocks created by the presence of water.

“The scientists that came forward have looked at all possible explanations and they eliminated all the other explanations,” Bernstain said when asked if there could have been other factors creating the evidence Opportunity found.

He said the new evidence is significant because it proves there was once water on Mars and also because it shows there was water present for a longer period of time than just a flash flood.

With water present for a significant period of time, Bernstain said it would create an environment suitable for the development of life to develop. “We have now discovered habitable zones on Mars,” he remarked.

Phillip Stooke, a professor of physics and astronomy at Western and an expert on space exploration, agreed this new evidence is definitive proof of water existing on Mars. “With the chemical evidence that we have, there is no way to avoid it,” he said.

“[Scientists] will be very happy with this. All sorts of hints were there before that were circumstantial; this evidence really nails it down,” Stooke said.

Stooke also agreed that the water was present long enough on Mars to support life. “[The water] had to be around long enough to dissolve chemicals,” he said.

Bernstain said the next step is further exploration using other rovers to look for actual signs of life on Mars. “[Opportunity] does not have this kind of instrumentation.”

The next rover travelling to Mars in 2007 will land where scientists think there is frozen water on the planet, Stooke said.

“It’s obviously exciting, [though] not entirely unexpected,” said Cameron Tsujita, a professor of earth sciences at Western, adding life on Mars is possible. “In the past the ingredients have been there,” he said.

“I’m not interested in life on Mars. I think life on Earth is much more important,” said C. Gordon Winter, another professor of earth sciences at Western.

But Tsujita had a different view. “All of these missions [to Mars] have been a benefit to our understanding of how our own Earth works,” he said.



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