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Data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) suggest the discovery
of ancient springs in the Vernal Crater, sites where life forms may
have evolved on Mars, according to a new report.
Hot springs have great astrobiological significance, as the closest
relatives of many of the most ancient organisms on Earth can thrive in
and around hydrothermal springs. If life forms have ever been present
on Mars, hot spring deposits would be ideal locations to search for
physical or chemical evidence of these organisms and could be target
areas for future exploratory missions.
Carlton C. Allen and Dorothy Z. Oehler, from the Astromaterials
Research and Exploration Science Directorate at the NASA Johnson Space
Center, Houston, Texas, propose that new image data from the High
Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on MRO depict structures
in Vernal Crater that appear to have arisen as part of a major area of
ancient spring activity. The data suggest that the southern part of
Vernal Crater has experienced episodes of water flow from underground
to the surface and may be a site where martian life could have
"Hot spring deposits are key target areas for future Mars missions,"
says Sherry L. Cady, PhD, Editor of Astrobiology and Associate
Professor in the Department of Geology at Portland State University.
"Such deposits on Earth preserve evidence of the fossilized remains
of the microbial communities that inhabited the hot springs over a wide
range of spatial scales. The potential to find key evidence indicative
of life––biofabrics, microbial remains, chemical fossils in
minerals––is high when sedimentary deposits form from hydrothermal
fluids. Hot spring fluids are typically laden with dissolved mineral
ions that, when they precipitate out and create the hydrothermal
deposit, enhance fossilization of all types of biosignatures."
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