Mars Water Found: Curiosity Rover Uncovers 'Abundant, Easily Accessible' Water In Martian Soil

By Josh Lieberman on September 26, 2013 2:35 PM EDT

Curiosity
The Mars rover Curiosity has found soil containing two percent water, according to a study published today in Science. (Photo: Creative Commons)

After scooping up Martian soil and analyzing it for the first time, NASA's Curiosity rover has something interesting to report: there's water in the soil. A fair bit of the stuff, too.

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"One of the most exciting results from this very first solid sample ingested by Curiosity is the high percentage of water in the soil," said Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Dean of Science Laurie Leshin, the lead author of a study detailing the findings. "About 2 percent of the soil on the surface of Mars is made up of water, which is a great resource, and interesting scientifically." If you heated a cubic foot of the Martian soil up, you'd get about two pints of water.

Although scientists have speculated that ancient rivers and even oceans once existed on Mars, the fact that the very first soil sample they analyzed contained two percent water is pretty remarkable. It means that water is still very much present, and even widespread, in Martian soil.  

The soil analysis was performed by Sample Analysis at Mars, Curiosity's onboard suite of instruments. The SAM suite includes a gas chromotograph, a mass spectrometer, and a tunable laser spectrometer, tools which SAM uses to identify chemical compounds and determine isotope ratios in the soil and rock samples gathered by Curiosity.

The Mars rover scooped up the soil containing water at Rocknest, a sand patch located in Gale crater between Peace Vallis and Mount Sharp. Curiosity dug four portions of soil before researchers decided that the fifth one was the money scoop. Curiosity fed that scoop into SAM, which sifted the "fines" of the soil -- dust, dirt and fine soil -- and heated it to 1,535 degrees Fahrenheit.

The baking process revealed the presence of significant amounts of carbon dioxide, oxygen and sulfur compounds. SAM's analysis also suggested the presence of carbonate, which forms when water is present.   

"We now know there should be abundant, easily accessible water on Mars," said Leshin. "When we send people, they could scoop up the soil anywhere on the surface, heat it just a bit, and obtain water."

That should come as a relief to the 200,000 people vying for a one-way ticket to Mars.

READ MORE:

Curiosity Rover Finds No Martian Methane, Reducing Chances Of Finding Life On Mars

Robotic Snake Could Be Next Mars Explorer: How Does Norwegian Rover Inspired By Reptile Work? [VIDEO]

Mars Curiosity Rover Photographs Solar Eclipse While Enroute To Mount Sharp

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