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Organization: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Contact: Diane Ainsworth
For Immediate Release, June 29, 1998
Water History, Rock Composition Among Latest Findings a Year After Mars Pathfinder

A year after the landing of Mars Pathfinder, mission scientists say that data from the spacecraft paint two strikingly different pictures of the role of water on the red planet, and yield surprising conclusions about the composition of rocks at the landing site. "Many of the things that we said last summer during the excitement after the landing have held up well," said Dr. Matthew Golombek, Pathfinder project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA. "But we have now had more time to study the data and are coming up with some new conclusions." Similar to on-going science results from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft currently in orbit around Mars, Pathfinder data suggest that the planet may have been awash in water three billion to 4.5 billion years ago. The immediate vicinity of the Pathfinder landing site, however, appears to have been dry and unchanged for the past two billion years.

Several clues from Pathfinder data point to a wet and warm early history on Mars, according to Golombek. Magnetized dust particles and the possible presence of rocks that are conglomerates of smaller rocks, pebbles and soil suggest copious water in the distant past. In addition, the bulk of the landing site appears to have been deposited by large volumes of water, and the hills on the horizon known as Twin Peaks appear to be streamlined islands shaped by water. But Pathfinder images also suggest that the landing site is essentially unchanged since catastrophic flooding sent rocks tumbling across the plain two billion years ago. "Since then this locale has been dry and static," he said.