Carbonate Mineral Rocks

Huge Seas covered Mars

New evidence has recently been revealed that strengthens the theory that life once existed on the red planet. Earlier this week it was reported by NASA that the Mars Exploration Robot "Spirit" has found martian rocks rich in carbonate minerals, which suggests there was much more water in Mars past than previously thought.

The original find was way back in 2005 but dust had stopped one of the instruments from functioning and so they have had to calibrate to remove the effect of dust. While small amounts of carbonate minerals have been found on the Red Planet previously this is the first time the mineral has been discovered on a large scale.

Not only does this suggest that large amounts of water were present, but also that Mars was also warmer with a dense carbon dioxide atmosphere (indicating a greenhouse gas effect) and even more importantly the water would have been "chemically neutral" which is an encouraging environment for the formation of life.

Huge Seas covered Mars

Even more exciting for the past existence of life on Mars is the discovery of large sedimentary deposits in the Hellas Planitia area suggesting that there was a large sea present between 3.5 and 4.5 billion years ago. The Geological mapping project suggests that the sedimentary deposits were formed through the erosion and movement of rock and soil from the highlands to a standing body of water.

The Hellas Planitia is a 2 000 km wide impact crater and is the largest on Mars, some scientists now believe that conditions on Mars were much more favourable for the evolution of life on the Red Planet than on Earth during the same time period.

The Mars Laboratory

According to NASA scientists we are still just at the beginnings of exploring our neighbourhood planet and the next stage of this exploration comes in the form of a $2 billion dollar science Laboratory called MLS (also known as Curiosity) that will be lowered onto the surface of Mars in 2013 and will "revolutionise investigations in science on other planets".

Mars Laboratory

This project will also lay the foundations for future missions including one that could return a sample from Mars as the mission involves managing to land a metric tonne onto the planet. The lab itself is a six wheeled robot the size of a small car with a mass of scientific instruments including still and video cameras, imagers, x-ray spectrometers (measuring chemical elements), a "chemcam", a Radiation detector (for measuring radiation for possible human visitors), a weather monitoring station and even a "Dynamic Albedo of Neurons" which looks for neurons escaping the planets surface.

Curiosity's main mission is to look for signs of past and present habitation.

The project was originally planned for launch in 2009 but various problems with the build has put this date back to 2011.