The Red Planet


Is there really water on Mars? NASA says new images of liquid-like deposits on the Red Planet could prove it. Bright, unusual-colored tracks in the planet’s red soil suggest water may have rushed across the surface sometime in the past decade, leading scientists to believe there’s still life on Mars yet to be discovered.

Check out images from the Mars rover, The Spirit, which landed in 2004.

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Deposits captured in images sent back from NASA's Mars Global surveyor show gullies that may have recently carried liquid water. The photo on the left was taken in 1999 -- no deposits. The image on the right, taken six years later, shows a trail of discolored sediment that could've been formed by rushing water.


An up-close look at Martian deposits thought to contain traces of liquid water. The findings are important because water is considered a necessary component in the search for extra-terrestrial life.


Scientists believe fluid may run beneath Mars' soil, either as groundwater or melting subsurface ice. Here fissures in the rock could've opened up pathways for underground water to escape.


Light-toned craters indicate the impacting meteorite shot to a depth where unusual, light sediment is present. Could there be traces of life buried beneath the planet's red dust?


Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity creeps toward "Victoria Crater," a half-mile-wide, 230-foot-deep hole. The crater has been the mission's long-term objective since the rover's arrival in January, 2004. Scientists expect the thick rock layers exposed along the crater's walls to shed light on Mars' geological history.


A global survey photo shows Mars as it appears in September, 2006, one-third of the way through its yearlong 360 degree rotation around the sun.


One of only a few existing images of Mars' tiny moon, Deimos. Discovered in 1877, it shares the Martian atmosphere with a second moon, Phobos. This picture was snapped from a high-resolution camera 14,285 miles away.


Mars Exploration Rover Spirit captured a photo of a volcanic rock fragment standing out from the red Martian sand. These rocks are similar to lava-induced formations found in volcanoes on Earth.


Rover Opportunity snapped an image of "Burns Cliff." While the picture appears to extend toward the camera, the walls are actually gradually curving slopes.


This image, taken by the microscopic imager on Opportunity, shows a portion of the rock outcrop named "El Capitan" at the rover's landing site Meridiani Planum. Scientists believe the spheres embedded in the rock's surface-- like this one-- are from the accumulation of minerals coming out of a solution inside a porous, water-soaked rock.


This is a close-up of the rock dubbed "El Capitan," located in the rock outcrop at Meridiani Planum, Mars. The rock has fine, parallel layers and contains cavities and scattered tiny spheres ranging from 1 to 2 millimeters in size. Scientists say the features of the rock indicate the presence of water.


Here are the results of the rover's first grinding of a rock. The round, shallow hole seen in this image is on a rock dubbed "McKittrick," located in the "El Capitan" area of the rocky outcrop near Opportunity's landing site. The grinding exposed fresh rock for the rover to inspect.


Opportunity dragged one of its wheels back and forth across the sandy soil at Meridiani Planum to create a 3 1/2 inch-deep hole (at the bottom of the image) measuring about 20 inches long by 8 inches wide. The rover used its arm to examine the fresh soil at the bottom of this trench for clues to its mineral composition and history. Scientists chose this particular site for digging because data shows it contains crystalline hematite, a mineral that sometimes forms in the presence of water.


This mosaic image shows an extreme close-up of round formations in the Martian soil near a part of the rock outcrop at Meridiani Planum called Stone Mountain. Scientists are studying these curious formations, which they dubbed "blueberries," for clues about the area's past environmental conditions. It's one of the highest resolution images ever taken by the microscopic imager on the rover's "arm."


This magnified look at the Martian soil near Opportunity's landing site, Meridiani Planum, shows coarse grains sprinkled over a fine layer of sand. Scientists are intrigued by the spheres, which can be formed by a variety of geologic processes-- such as molten lava droplets cooling.


This is one of the first images beamed back to Earth from the rover shortly after it arrived at Meridiani Planum on Mars. The image was taken by the rover's navigation camera. On the left, the rover's mast can be seen in a stowed position.


This color image shows the Martian landscape at Meridiani Planum, where Opportunity successfully landed around 9:05 p.m. PST on Saturday. In the foreground, bounce marks and drag marks from the airbags that cushioned the lander are clearly visible in the Martian dirt.


This color image taken by the Spirit rover's panoramic camera shows "Adirondack," the rover's first target rock. Spirit traversed the terrain at Gusev Crater to arrive in front of the football-sized rock on Sunday, Jan. 18, 2004, three days after it successfully rolled off the lander. The rock was selected as Spirit's first target because its flat, dust-free surface is ideally suited for drilling for analysis. Scientists named the rock after New York's Adirondack mountain range. The word Adirondack is Native American and is roughly translated as "They of the great rocks."


This image mosaic taken by the panoramic camera onboard the Spirit shows the rover's landing site, dubbed the Columbia Memorial Station, at Gusev Crater, Mars. On the right are the east hills, about two miles away from the lander, and a possible final destination for the rover.


A mosaic of images sent from the Spirit rover on Mars forms a black-and-white panorama of the rocky Martian landscape.


This is the first color photo ever taken from the surface of Mars. It was taken by the Viking I Lander, on July 21, 1976-- a day after it first landed.


This picture of the famed "Happy Face" on Mars, otherwise known as the Galle crater, was taken by the Mars Global Surveyor in March 1999.


When Viking I first took pictures of Cydonia, a region of Mars, one particular image looked strikingly like a face on the surface of the Red Planet. Various theories sprang up about the origins of the face-- was it built by Martians? Was it a series of buildings or land shifted and formed by someone to look like a face? But in a higher-resolution image taken from the Mars Global Surveyor in April 1998 of the mysterious face, the same land feature no longer looks like a face.


The Hubble Space Telescope, which orbits the earth, captured the sharpest view ever obtained of the Red Planet on June 26, 2001, when Mars was about 43 million miles from the Earth. Swirling orange dust storms and white ice clouds dominate the planet's dynamic atmosphere.


In this picture of the Martian surface, taken by the Viking Lander II in 1979, a thin coating of water ice covers the rocks and soil. This coating is estimated to be no more than one-thousandth of an inch thick.


This is the South Polar Cap of Mars as taken by the Mars Global Surveyor on April 17, 2000. This is the cap at its minimum size, during the Mars summer. In winter and early spring, this entire photo would be white with frost. Observations made by the Viking orbiters in the 1970s found that the south polar cap remains cold enough even in summer so that the polar frost (seen here as white) consists of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide freezes at temperatures around -193 degrees Farenheit. The polar cap from left to right is about 260 miles across.


Taller than three Mount Everests and about as wide as the entire chain of Hawaiian Islands, Olympic Mons is a giant volcano that, despite its size and height, is nearly as flat as a pancake. The flanks of the volcano only slope a few degrees. The Mars Global Surveyor took this spectacular wide-angle view on April 25, 1998. In the view presented here, north is to the left and east is up. Imagine that you are looking out a window at the surface of Mars from about 560 miles up in the atmosphere.


Sand dunes were first detected on Mars by the Mariner 9 spacecraft in the early 1970s, and are actively tracked and studied by scientists today to reveal the relationship between the planet's surface and atmosphere. Here is a three-dimensional image of a field of sand dunes located in Nili Patera, a volcanic depression in central Syrtis Major, taken by Mars Global Surveyor.


The Twin Peaks are modest-size hills to the southwest of the landing site of Mars Pathfinder, a small but spectacularly successful mission of the late 1990s. The Twin Peaks are about 100 feet tall, and are seen on the right-hand horizon of this image, taken by the lander.


NASA's Mars Odyssey Mission, launched in 2001, is orbiting the planet and mapping the amount and distribution of chemical elements and minerals, such as hydrogen, on the planet's surface. It will also record the radiation environment of Mars to find out what the radiation risk is to any future human explorers who may one day go to Mars. The blue in this image shows the extent of water ice found on the planet during the Martian summer.


Mars Odyssey was launched in 2001 by NASA to orbit the Red Planet and gather data on the Martian chemical and mineral landscape. The spacecraft is designed to find out the composition of the planet's surface, to detect water and shallow buried ice, and to study the radiation environment and determine its safety for any possible future human explorers.


Launched in 1996, the Global Surveyor entered Mars orbit in 1997, and continued to map the entire planet. The Surveyor has studied the entire Martian surface, atmosphere, and interior, and has returned more data about the red planet than all other Mars missions combined.


NASA's Viking Project made history in 1976 when it became the first mission to safely land on the surface of another planet. There were two spacecraft built for the Viking Project : Viking 1 and Viking 2. Each spacecraft consisted of a lander and an orbiter. The landers took photographs of the Martian surface, collected data and performed experiments to look for life. The last transmission from a Viking lander was received in 1982.


Mars Pathfinder, which landed on Mars on July 4, 1997, was originally intended to show that a lander and a free-ranging rover could be delivered to the surface of the planet. The mission was a great success, sending back unprecedented amounts of data on the Red Planet and outliving its design life many times over.

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