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Rocks Suggest Water on Mars


Utah Geologist to Speak on Martian ‘Blueberries’ and the Possibility of Life on the Red Planet

Rock formations suggest water existed on Mars’ surface

(May 9, 2005)

Marjorie A. Chan

Marjorie A. Chan

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -www.ucr.edu- Marjorie Chan, the Chair of the University of Utah’s geology and geophysics department, will speak May 17 at the University of California, Riverside on the discovery of blueberry-sized rock formations that might be the result of water on Mars. The free, public talk is the latest of UCR’s Department of Earth Sciences Hewett Club Seminars, scheduled from 4 to 5 p.m., in the Geology building, room 1408. For more information, call 951-827-4504 or send an email to Dave Mrofka using the link below.

The forum, titled “Analogs of Earth Marbles to Mars Blueberries: Records of Groundwater History from Red Rock to Red Planet,” highlights Chan’s study, published in the journal Nature, suggesting that the formations found on Mars may be formed in the same manner as those on Earth.

Scientists say that in Utah, as on Mars, when fluid travels through rocks containing iron, the mineral leeches out, leaving the round, reddish-brown, earthy masses known as hematites, or “blueberries.”

The round rocks are found in southern Utah’s Zion and Capitol Reef national parks, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Snow Canyon State Park and in the Moab area. The diameters of the stones range from one twenty-fifth of an inch, like the ones on Mars, to eight inches.

In 1998, the Mars Global Surveyor Opportunity detected what appeared to be large deposits of hematites in a region known as Meridiani Planum. The broad plain was picked as Opportunity’s landing site because scientist wanted to study the hematite, which almost always forms in water.

Scientists are interested in whether water once existed on Mars (or now may exist beneath its surface) because water is necessary for life.

“On Earth, whenever we find water, we find life — in surface or underground water, hot water or cold water — any place there is water on Earth there are microbes, there is life,” said emeritus geologist Bill Parry of the University of Utah. “That’s the bottom line: hematite is linked to life.

Chan’s visit to UCR is supported by the Association of Women Geologists-ConocoPhillips Distinguished Lecture Series.
Closeup of hematite concretions from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. University of Utah geologists say the mostly round rocks formed millions of years ago underground in porous, water-soaked sandstone, and may provide clues to similar stones found on Mars by the Opportunity rover. <br />
<br />
<b>Credit:</b> Brenda Beitler, Univeristy of Utah<br />

Closeup of hematite concretions from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. University of Utah geologists say the mostly round rocks formed millions of years ago underground in porous, water-soaked sandstone, and may provide clues to similar stones found on Mars by the Opportunity rover.

Credit: Brenda Beitler, Univeristy of Utah

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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