NASA Mars Rover Curiosity Finds Water in First Sample of Planet Surface

Science Scope, December 2013 | Go to article overview

NASA Mars Rover Curiosity Finds Water in First Sample of Planet Surface


The first scoop of soil analyzed by the analytical suite in the belly of NASA's Curiosity rover reveals that fine materials on the surface of the planet contain several percent water by weight.

"About 2% of the soil on the surface of Mars is made up of water, which is a great resource, and interesting scientifically," said Laurie Leshin, the leader of the research team. The sample also released significant carbon dioxide, oxygen, and sulfur compounds when heated.

Curiosity is the first rover on Mars to carry equipment for gathering and processing samples of rock and soil. One of those instruments was employed in the current research, the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM), which includes a gas chromotograph, a mass spectrometer, and a tunable laser spectrometer, enabling it to identify a wide range of chemical compounds and determine the ratios of different isotopes of key elements.

In this study, scientists used the rover's scoop to collect dust, dirt, and finely grained soil from a sandy patch known as Rocknest. Researchers fed portions of the fifth scoop of soil into SAM. Inside SAM, the fines--as the dust, dirt, and fine soil are known--were heated to 835[degrees] Celsius.

Baking the sample also revealed a compound containing chlorine and oxygen, likely chlorate or perchlorate, previously found on Mars only in high-latitude locations. This finding at Curiosity's equatorial site suggests more global distribution. The analysis also suggests the presence of carbonate materials, which form in the presence of water. …

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