Evidence of possible past water flow on Mars may lead to further space mission

Thursday, December 7, 2006

New pictures of the planet Mars show that water may have existed on the surface of the planet within the past seven years. The director of the astronomy lab program at the University of North Texas, Ron DiIulio, says this discovery could lead to further Mars missions.

DiIulio, a NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory Solar System Ambassador, says the discovery raises a series of interesting questions.

"We think the water is below the surface of the planet, and is heated by direct light from the sun. Scientists are now wondering if what's happening on Mars is similar to the hydrothermal eruptions of water on the Earth, and if so, does that mean that Mars has an internally-heated core. Also, we'll want to learn if the water on Mars contains anaerobic bacteria, like what happens on Earth," he says.

The pictures of Mars were taken this past October by the Mars Global Surveyor, which has been orbiting the planet since 1997. They show the formation of new craters on the surface of Mars as well as a series of light colored deposits in gullies that were not there in previous photographs. NASA researchers think these deposits were sediment left behind when water passed through the gullies.

DiIulio predicts that further study of possible water on Mars will have to wait for future space missions.

"The Mars Global Surveyor is long past its original mission life, as are the two Mars Rovers currently on the planet surface," he says.

The Mars discoveries come as NASA ponders the construction of a lunar base by 2020. DiIulio predicts the base may be a tough sell to the American people.

"Right now, the lunar base is a dream. There is a great deal of engineering development to be done to have this happen, plus the costs of doing this are going to be expensive," he says.

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