Saturday science subject: Martian hot springs

— 9:37 AM on May 31, 2008

Scientists who've written a paper based on data from NASA's Mars rover Spirit believe Mars may once have housed hot springs. According to Science Daily, Spirit stumbled upon deposits of nearly pure silica in the red planet's Gussev Crater—deposits indicative of hydrothermal vents.

"On Earth, hydrothermal deposits teem with life and the associated silica deposits typically contain fossil remains of microbes," says Jack Farmer, professor of astrobiology in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Farmer is one of the paper's co-authors.

"But we don't know if that's the case here," Farmer notes, "because the rovers don't carry instruments that can detect microscopic life." He adds, "What we can say is that this was once a habitable environment where liquid water and the energy needed for life were present."

Farmer says microscopic imagers being developed for future rovers "should let scientists detect [traces of microbial life] in situ." He adds, "We just need to deliver such instruments to the right place. The discoveries at Home Plate have helped us know where to go next."

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