Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Curiosity rover finds - About 2% of the soil on Mars' surface is water -

Curiosity rover finds - About 2% of the soil on Mars' surface is water - 

Curiosity, the Mars rover, reached out its robotic arm to hold a Canadian-made device over a dark grey rock sitting in a crater.

The tiny device, a cube just seven centimetres across, bombarded the rock with alpha particles and X-rays and then picked up the backscatter helping reveal a rock unlike any ever seen on Mars.

Jake_M, as the scientists have dubbed the Martian rock, resembles a type of volcanic rock found on ocean islands and continental rift zones on Earth.

It also raises the tantalizing possibility that there may be water beneath the Martian surface, say scientists, who describe the rock Thursday in a report published the journal Science.

“It was a good pick,” Ralf Gellert, at the University of Guelph, said of the Martian rock that was the first one analyzed using the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS).

Gellert leads the international team responsible for the powerful spectrometer, Canada’s $18-million contribution to the Martian rover that touched down on Mars just over a year ago.

Curiosity, which also carries an on-board geology lab, a rock-zapping laser and 17 cameras, is designed to get a better read on Martian geology and find out if the planet was ever habitable.

Curiosity has yet to find signs of life, which Gellert described as “the jackpot.”

But it has turned up plenty of evidence of water, which is essential to life on Earth and indicates life may have once had a foothold on Mars.

Curiosity found water in one of the first scoops of Martian soil it picked up, according to another of the five reports published Thursday. They focus on Curiosity’s first three months of exploration in the Gale crater.

“About two per cent of the soil on the surface of Mars is made up of water,” said Laurie Leshin of New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, whose team has a suite of instruments in Curiosity’s belly that assesses chemicals and elements.

Her team fed a scoop of dust and dirt from a sandy patch in the crater known as Rocknest into instruments that heated the Martian soil to a temperature of 835 C.

Baking the sample at such high heat revealed Martian soil contains not only water but chlorine — which can be toxic — and oxygen. Other experiments revealed the soil contains plenty of hydrogen.


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