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Image: Salty trench
NASA / JPL / Cornell
This image taken by Spirit's panoramic camera shows a trench dug by the rover on its way toward the Columbia Hills. Measurements taken of the soil contained in the trench by Spirit's alpha particle X-ray spectrometer showed the presence of sulfur and magnesium.
updated 6/8/2004 5:19:38 PM ET 2004-06-08T21:19:38

NASA’s Spirit rover has found concentrated salt below the surface of Mars, offering more evidence of past water activity, mission scientists said Tuesday.

The six-wheeled robot found the salt while analyzing the composition of a trench it had dug in a large crater. Scientists believe the salt may have been deposited after water drained through the soil, dissolving materials in rocks.

Cornell University astronomer Steve Squyres, the mission’s main scientist, said the findings offered “much more compelling evidence than we have found anywhere else” in the vast Gusev Crater region, which the rover has explored since landing Jan. 3.

NASA announced in March that Spirit’s twin rover, Opportunity, had determined that rocks at a site on the other side of the planet were once soaked with liquid water, and the conditions would have been suitable for life.

Evidence at that location included a large amount of crystallized salt inside rock, indicating it was dissolved in water and then left behind when the water evaporated.

The findings were announced as Opportunity was being readied to enter a deep crater that could offer clues to the planet’s history of water, despite the risk that the craft may not be able to get out.

Mission scientists have said the potential scientific value of exploring Endurance Crater outweighs the risk that the rover may not be able to drive back up its steep inner slope.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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