Mars shares many similarities with Earth
Washington (IANS): Parts of Mars resemble places on Earth, including its landscape, history of water, soil and even its weather, says a study.
Mark Lemmon, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, long involved with Mars missions, says last year's Phoenix Mars Lander mission keeps revealing secrets about the planet, answering some questions but raising other big ones.
Phoenix also found weather patterns similar to those on Earth, including cold fronts that bring in gusty winds and sub-freezing temperatures.
Another bonus: Phoenix saw small Martian snowflakes, which leads the team to believe that snowfall on Mars was once a common occurrence.
"Phoenix landed in a place that has access to Martian ice, which is exciting by itself," Mr. Lemmon said of the Mars probe, which landed May 25, 2008. The mission goals were to investigate the suitability of Mars for past or present life, but Phoenix was incapable of detecting life itself.
"Phoenix was designed to verify and investigate subsurface ice, and it found it almost instantly," he explains. "The entire area where it landed has water ice just a few inches under the soil. The area is cold now, but it has been warmer in the past."
NASA's charge to researchers on the mission has been simple: "Follow the water", meaning examine all aspects of water - or ice - on Mars. No water in a liquid state has been found yet, Mr. Lemmon said, but there is new evidence that Mars had liquid water billions of years ago.
Using its robotic arm, the Mars Lander was able to scoop up dirt, which was mixed with ice, and analyse it, Mr. Lemmon said.
"Where it landed is a barren place that resembles the dry valleys of Antarctica," he adds. "The area has mounds and troughs, and just like in Antarctic valleys, there is no liquid water but plenty of ice.
"Some of these patches are fairly pure. Others have the ice mixed with soil containing energy sources and nutrients that could be used if there were life."
Mr. Lemmon said the soil has perchlorate, a form of chlorine that is considered hazardous, but certain types of bacteria are able to live on it here.
"The interesting thing is, the soil has a potential energy source and oxygen source for life on Mars," he notes.
These findings were published in the current issue of Science magazine.
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