Follow this link to skip to the main content National Aeronautics and Space Administration Logo
NASA Banner
NASA Mars Exploration Program
Mars Exploration Program

Science Highlights

Spirit & Opportunity:
Finding the Water and Conditions for Life!

A decade of discoveries on Mars!
The rovers tell us of an ancient time
when Mars was awash in water,
with good conditions for supporting microbial life.

'Intrepid' Crater on Mars

Soaked in Salty Waters Long Ago:
Landing in a crater, Opportunity scored a "hole in one" by finding the mineral hematite, which typically forms in water. Water is key to life as we know it. Yet, acidic water soaked this area in Mars' ancient past, making conditions harder for life to thrive.

Carbonate-Containing Martian Rocks

Bathing in Neutral Water in a Warmer Climate:
At a place called Comanche, Spirit found rocks ten times richer in key chemicals (magnesium and iron carbonates) than any other Martian rocks studied before. These rocks formed when Mars was warm and wet (had a thicker carbon-dioxide atmosphere and near-neutral-pH water). This warmer, watery environment could have supported life much better than the harshly acidic conditions the rover found elsewhere.

Related News Release:

Rover's Wheel Churns Up Bright Martian Soil

Steamy Times in Ancient Hot Springs:
While dragging a wheel, Spirit churned up soil and found 90 percent pure silica at "Home Plate." On Earth, this kind of silica usually exists in hot springs or hot steam vents, where life as we know it often finds a hot, happy home. Perhaps ancient microbes on Mars did as well.

Related News Release:

Evidence of Volcanic Explosion

Explosive Signs of a Once Heated Habitat:
Spirit discovered that an ancient volcano erupted at "Home Plate," the rover's final resting place. Together, powerful steam eruptions from heated underground water produced some explosive volcanism. While violent, these extreme conditions can support microbial life on Earth. Once upon a time, maybe they did on Mars…

Related News Release:

'Homestake' Vein in Color

Slam-Dunk Signs of Flowing Water:
Score! Near the rim of Endeavor Crater, Opportunity found bright-colored veins of gypsum in the rocks. These rocks likely formed when water flowed through underground fractures in the rocks, leaving calcium behind. A slam-dunk sign that Mars was once more hospitable to life than it is today!

Related News Release:

'Esperance' Target Examined by Opportunity

Compelling Clays: A Friendly Place for Life:
Opportunity found the most compelling signs of a watery past on Mars: clay minerals formed in neutral-pH water. Of all the places studied by the twin rovers, this environment at Endeavor Crater once had the friendliest conditions for ancient microbial life.