Dirt sample reveals two pints of liquid water per cubic feet, not freely accessible but bound to other minerals in the soil.
Water has been discovered in the fine-grained soil on the surface of Mars, which could be a useful resource for future human missions to the red planet, according to measurements made by Nasa's Curiosity rover.
Each cubic foot of Martian soil contains around two pints of liquid water, though the molecules are not freely accessible, but rather bound to other minerals in the soil.
The Curiosity rover has been on Mars since August 2012, landing in an area near the equator of the planet known as Gale Crater. Its target is to circle and climb Mount Sharp, which lies at the centre of the crater, a five-kilometre-high mountain of layered rock that will help scientists unravel the history of the planet.
A sample pulled from Mars just last month has been thoroughly examined by the Mars Science Laboratory Mission, and earlier today scientists declared that they have finally found solid evidence that Mars could have once sustained life.
From mission lead scientist John Grotzinger of Caltech:
“We have found a habitable environment that is so benign and is so supportive of life that probably if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it.”
It’s official: Primitive life could have lived on ancient Mars, NASA says.
A sample of Mars drilled from a rock by NASA’s Curiosity rover and then studied by onboard instruments “shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes,” NASA officials announced today (March 12) in a statement and press conference.
The discovery comes just seven months after Curiosity landed onMars to spend at least two years determining if the planet could ever have hosted primitive life. To be clear, the new find is not evidence that Martian life has ever actually existed; Curiosity carries no life-detection instruments among its scientific gear.
"A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. "From what we know now, the answer is yes."
Curiosity drilled into a rock on Feb. 8, boring 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) into an outcrop called John Klein using its arm-mounted hammering drill — deeper than any robot had ever dug into the Red Planet before.
Two weeks later, the rover transferred the resulting gray powder sample into two onboard instruments called Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) and Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM.
CheMin and SAM identified some of the key chemical ingredients for life in this dust, including sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon, researchers said. Intriguingly, the mix also suggested a possible energy source for indigenous Martian life, if any ever existed in the area.
"The range of chemical ingredients we have identified in the sample is impressive, and it suggests pairings such as sulfates and sulfides that indicate a possible chemical energy source for micro-organisms," Paul Mahaffy, SAM principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a statement.
On the 10th anniversary of its launch, NASA’s Opportunity rover on Mars is also celebrating reaching the halfway point in its drive from one crater-rim segment to another.
The Opportunity rover, which is still going strong on the Red Planet long after its official mission was slated to end, is journeying 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) from the spot it studied for the past 22 months, on the edge of Mars’ Endeavour crater, to another area where it will begin a new phase in its research.
Sunday (July 7) marks the 10th anniversary of Opportunity’s launch from Earth with its sister rover Spirit, which shut down on Mars in 2010. The rovers lifted off in 2003, and arrived at the Red Planet in January 2004. They were originally expected to operate for three months.
With its mission clock at nine years and counting, Opportunity is still uncovering secrets on Mars. The robot was last based at the southern tip of the “Cape York” segment of the 14-mile-wide (22 kilometers) Endeavour crater, and is now on its way to a spot called “Solander Point.” It began the trip in mid-May, and has been driving for about six weeks.
”The surface that Opportunity is driving across in Botany Bay is polygonally fractured outcrop that is remarkably good for driving,” Brad Joliff, an Opportunity science team member and long-term planner at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a statement. “The plates of outcrop, like a tiled mosaic pavement, have a thin covering of soil, not enough to form the wind-blown ripples we’ve had to deal with during some other long treks. The outcrop plates are light-toned, and the cracks between them are filled with dark, basaltic soil and our old friends the ‘blueberries.’”
Opportunity has now traveled more than 22 miles (35 kilometers) on Mars, and recently broke the U.S. off-Earth driving record, which had previously been set by the Apollo 17 moon rover, driven by astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt over 22.21 miles (35.74 km) of the lunar surface in December 1972.
If Opportunity keeps chugging along on Mars, it may eventually break the worldwide extraterrestrial driving record, which was set in 1973 by the Soviet robotic moon rover Lunokhod 2, which traveled roughly 26 miles (42 km) over the moon.
The sky falls on Mars, too, just as it does sometimes on Earth. In its long crosscountry drive over the pool table expanse of Meridiani Planum, Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has encountered more than a dozen meteorites, all of them iron or stony-iron in composition.
Meteorites found on Mars are curiosities, but they can be something more than that, as a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research points out. A team of scientists led by James Ashley (Arizona State University) notes that because we have samples on Earth of the same kinds of meteorites found there, scientists can use the weathering seen on the Martian examples to probe bygone Martian climates.
The paper details three of Opportunity’s Mars meteorites, dubbed Block Island, Shelter Island, and Mackinac Island. Block Island was found by Opportunity on sol (Mars day) 1961 (July 31, 2009), Shelter Island on sol 2022 (October 1, 2009), and Mackinac Island on sol 2034 (October 14, 2009).Scientists are naming rocks of scientific interest after islands on earth.
What’s most distinctive about these meteorites is that they show evidence for repeated episodes of weathering. For example, Block Island (an iron meteorite) shows two dramatically different faces: one smoothed, probably by sandblasting, and the other deeply pitted, probably by acidic corrosion. The corrosion likely occurred as thin films of water encountered iron sulfide minerals commonly found in iron meteorites.
Both Block Island and Shelter Island show evidence for multi-stage weathering. Close examination of their surfaces show that both have lost through weathering the fusion crusts that meteorites commonly develop as they speed through the atmosphere. Then exposure to water (or probably ice) created an oxydized (rusted) outer layer. This in turn has been largely scoured away by wind erosion.
There’s no way at present to determine how long those meteorites rested on the surface before Opportunity rolled by. But the weathering is unlikely to have happened recently, given Mars’ current arid, cold climate. Yet scientists know that over the last half million years at least, the planet’s spin axis has changed its tilt with respect to the Martian orbit. This has produced periods when snow and ice have come down from the polar regions and accumulated near the equator, probably including Meridiani Planum.
The most memorable thing was the tears. They were the result, for the most part, of the tensions of the “Seven Minutes of Terror.” And of hope. And of anticipation. And of the knowledge that so many people had invested a significant portion of their lives in this one moment — and the knowledge, as well, of how easily it could all go wrong.
Nothing went wrong. At approximately 1:30 am East Coast time on August 5, 2012, the control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, erupted with cheers, high fives, hugs, relief, and, yes, tears. The Curiosity rover, which had taken several years to be built and another year to travel away from Earth, had landed safely on the surface of Mars.