NASA’s Curiosity rover detected signs of substantial water on Mars. This news comes just a week after NASA’s announcement that the levels of methane on Mars are insignificant, surprising scientists who believed there to be considerable levels of methane in the red planet’s atmosphere.
Some saw the report about the lack of methane as a blow to the possibility of alien life on Mars. But this latest news about water has recharged that possibility. Wired explains that soil samples analyzed by Curiosity indicate that there is likely “abundant, easily accessible water” widespread across the planet.
The gas chromatograph on Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument heated up soil samples collected by the rover. Wired explains that, “once all the volatiles [were] burned off by the oven’s scorching 835C temperatures, the laser spectrometer measure[d] the different isotopes remaining to identify what molecules were present in the sample.” That’s how the water was discovered. Laurie Leshin, Dean of Science at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and lead author of one of the five papers published in the journal Science about the discovery, describes, “When we send people [to Mars], they could scoop up the soil anywhere on the surface, heat it just a bit, and obtain water.” She explains, “About two percent of the soil on the surface of Mars is made up of water, which is a great resource, and interesting scientifically.”
Peter Grindrod, a planetary scientist at University College London not involved in the study, explained to Wired, “The water in the soil particles is interesting because this fine-grained material is moved around the entire planet by near-surface winds, meaning that it could have global implications.”
These latest findings are further evidence of Mars’ wet past. And because the discoveries published in these five recent papers only cover Curiosity’s first four months of work, scientists are optimistic that bigger discoveries are yet to come.