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Water in the (Martian) Desert

on December 12, 2009
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National Geographic News: “Mars Had Liquid Water in Recent Past, Rover FindsOnce again, the news is awash in coverage of a new “water on Mars” claim. Does this one stand up to scrutiny?

The spinning wheels revealed a layer of “bright, fluffy” soil that was found to be filled with sulfates.

NASA’s Spirit rover has been stuck in a rut (almost literally) for months. It’s currently sitting on the edge of a crater, where it became stuck when a wheel sank part-way into soft sand. Since early November, Spirit’s handlers have been spinning the rover’s wheels to try to drive it out of the trap.

Although Spirit is not yet free, the wheel-spinning hasn’t been entirely in vain. At one point, the spinning wheels revealed a layer of “bright, fluffy” soil that was found to be filled with sulfates. Researchers have taken the opportunity to study the soil in more detail.

On earth, sulfates are only known to form in the presence of liquid water, so Spirit’s discovery has excited scientists as further evidence of liquid water on Mars. Scientists believe the sulfates may be evidence of volcanic eruptions on Mars, which may have included sulfur-rich steam. Additionally, a layer of calcium sulfate suggests periodic snowfall on Mars—although the timeline given for such snowfall is on the order of hundreds of millions of years.

Creationists are also very interested in evidence of liquid water on Mars, although that interest comes without the usual evolutionary overtones and timelines. So while the findings of Spirit and its sibling rover Opportunity are of great interest to us, we are more skeptical about research driven by evolutionary hopes. For example, BBC News reports a plan to test a mineral found only in Aberdeenshire that “is formed in the presence of water. [S]o if it does occur on the surface of Mars it could provide proof the planet can sustain life,” the BBC reports. What evolutionary astrobiologists seem to forget is that while life (as we know it) requires liquid water to exist, liquid water does not require life to exist. Evidence of liquid water on Mars is fascinating, but still leaves evolutionists without an explanation for the accidental origin of life.


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