“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 Curiosity researcher Laurie Leshin, of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “About 2 percent of the soil on the surface of Mars is made up of water, which is a great resource, and interesting scientifically.”
Researchers made their findings using Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) unit, which includes three sophisticated instruments: a gas chromotograph, mass spectrometer, and tunable laser spectrometer.
SAM allowed the scientists to identify a wide range of chemical compounds and to calculate the ratios of different isotopes of the sample’s key elements.
The same soil sample, when heated to 835 degrees Celsius, showed significant amounts of carbon dioxide, oxygen and various sulfur compounds.
The heated collection of Martian dust, dirt and fine soil, gathered by the rover’s scoop at a location called Rocknest, also revealed a compound containing chlorine and oxygen, which the scientists think is likely chlorate or perchlorate.
Up until this finding, the scientists had thought those materials only existed in the high-latitude areas of Mars. By finding them at Curiosity’s current location near the equator of Mars, the researchers say that perhaps they could be found all over the planet.
Since they are formed in the presence of water, the carbonate materials that were found in their tested sample, according to the researchers, also provided clues to Martian water.
According to Leshin, the results of her team’s research shed light on the composition of the planet’s surface, while offering direction for future research.
“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.”