Mars Rover Samples Find Soil Could Support Life on Red Planet

A veteran rover sent to Mars has been exploring a new site and found soil samples unlike any examined before, leading scientists to believe that the red planet is more favorable for life than previously thought.

The Opportunity rover, exploring Mars for more than seven years, landed on Mars in January 2004.

Three weeks ago it arrived at the edge of a 13.6-mile wide crater named Endeavour. The first rock examined, named Tisdale 2, is the size of a footstool. The rock was smashed apart by an impact that left an impression the size of a tennis court on the rim of the crater.

According to researchers, Tisdale 2 is unlike any rock they have seen on Mars. The massive rock hints at an ancient water source and a once warmer plant.

“It has a composition similar to some volcanic rocks, but there’s much more zinc and bromine than we’ve typically seen. We are getting confirmation that reaching Endeavour really has given us the equivalent of a second landing site for Opportunity,” Steve Squyres said a press conference. Squyres is a Cornell University scientist who is also the principal investigator for Opportunity.

Researchers have used an instrument in the robot’s arm to identify elements on Tisdale 2. They found high levels of zinc and bromine, which on Earth is often found in rocks exposed to hot water. Finding such levels were truly unexpected, researchers said.

“This rock doesn’t look like anything else we’ve ever seen before,” said Squyres. “We are thinking very hard over what this means.”

Squyres added, “We may be dealing with a situation where water has percolated or flowed - somehow moved through these rocks, maybe as vapor, maybe as liquid, don't know yet - but has enhanced the zinc concentration in the rock to levels far in excess of anything that we have seen on Mars before."

The images of rocks containing clay minerals, which form in wet conditions, suggest the red planet incapable of supporting life maybe once had warmer, wetter climate. Dr. Squyres noted that it was too early to speculate whether geysers or percolating water formed the formations.