Whenever I’m putting salt on my food I don’t usually start me thinking about life on Mars. To be honest, I’d be a bit worried if anyone started thinking about extraterrestrial life instead of enjoying their nice meal (especially if it was while having a romantic dinner out).
Hmm… what’s this got to do with science? A NASA probe (Mars Odyssey) has just discovered an area of salt deposits on the Red Planet. Although salt isn’t usually something you’d associate with life, it is in fact a huge clue as to where ancient Martian life may once have lived.
It’s all down to the fact that whenever water flows over rocks, it erodes them, absorbing some of the minerals contained in the rocks. Among these minerals is sodium chloride – or common salt – and its discovery on Mars could be pivotal in deciding where we go next to look for life on Mars.
In all the places where there are salt deposits we can be pretty sure that water once flowed there. Add to water the warmer temperatures that Mars had when the newly discovered salt deposits were found (they formed 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago) and you get conditions quite favorable to life. Whether life actually existed or not remains to be seen, but knowing where liquid water once flowed makes the task of searching for life much easier.
While I’m writing about Mars, here’s some disturbing news: NASA has just announced it is cutting funding to the amazing Spirit and Opportunity probes by 20%. As you can see by clicking here and here, these two rovers have been among the best ever sent to Mars, so it’s worrying that NASA isn’t willing to pay enough for them. It’s a shame that George Bush doesn’t realize that when he says he wants a man on Mars by 2030, he doesn’t realize that it won’t be free.