SYRACUSE, N.Y., Oct. 21 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say a mineral found on the surface of Mars can give clues as to when, and under what circumstances, water was present on the planet.
Researchers at Syracuse say the mineral jarosite -- found in rocks analyzed by the Mars rover Opportunity -- can only form in the presence of water, so its presence is proof water had to exist at some point.
Knowing when and for how long water was present on the Martian surface has implications for the search for potential habitats harboring life, the scientists say.
"Jarosite requires water for its formation, but dry conditions for its preservation," earth science Professor Suzanna Baldwin said in a university release Wednesday. "We'd like to know when water formed on the surface of Mars and how long it was there. Studying jarosite may help answer some of these questions."
Baldwin and research associate Joseph Kula are studying jarosite that formed less than 50 million years ago in the Big Horn Basin in Wyoming, which they hope will reveal when the minerals formed and how fast environmental conditions changed from water-saturated to dry.
The results can be used as a context for interpreting findings on other planets, they said in their study published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.