Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cave Water and Faunal Bones Found in Atacama Desert

NASA scientists have discovered water in a cave in the driest place in the world---the Atacama desert. The cave Cueva Chulacao, where the water was found, is the largest known cave in the Cordillera de la Sal. There were hardly any indication of recent visits to the place and was in pristine condition.

J. Judson Wynne, a cave expert who is with the SETI Institute and Northern Arizona University, was planting a sensor on the wall of the cave when his feet sank into mud. It was not apparent where the water came from, and it was quite a surprise.

Another surprise came from another cave, which they renamed Cuevita de Huesos which means Small Cave of the Bones, because in it, they discovered hundreds---maybe even thousands of animal bones stuck in the wall, as if encased by time itself. Like the water in the other cave, how the animals came to be deposited there in those numbers is a big mystery.

The scientists were on a sensor-planting mission which would help in research for identifying thermal signatures of caves which may harbor water in a dry environment.

Results of the study would help determine which caves on Mars could potentially have water. Some of these caves, which have already been photographed from space, could potentially harbor life. Otherwise, they can be used by astronauts as shelter from the harsh Martian environment.

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