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Water In Mars Soil Found by Curiosity Rover, Says NASA

Image: Water In Mars Soil Found by Curiosity Rover, Says NASA

By Michael Mullins   |   Friday, 27 Sep 2013 09:06 AM

Water is in Mars' soil in large amounts, according to NASA, which found that the red planet's surface soil contains approximately 2 percent water by weight. The discovery was made by the Mars rover Curiosity.

The finding means that in the future, red plant pioneers could extract one liter of water for every cubic foot of Martian dirt they dig up, the study's lead author Laurie Leshin told SPACE.com.

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"For me, that was a big 'wow' moment," Leshin told SPACE.com. "I was really happy when we saw that there's easily accessible water here in the dirt beneath your feet. And it's probably true anywhere you go on Mars."

The findings were published in the journal Science on Thursday as part of a five paper study highlighting NASA observations about the Martian surface made in the first 100 days on the red planet by the Curiosity.

The soil collected by NASA's Curiosity was heated to a temperature of 1,535 degrees Fahrenheit. The gases that subsequently boiled off the dirt were found to consist of carbon dioxide, oxygen and sulfur compounds.

NASA researchers also found deuterium, a "heavy" isotope of hydrogen, in the dirt, leading to the conclusion that the red planet's surface soil contained lots of water, SPACE.com noted.

"That tells us that the dirt is acting like a bit of a sponge and absorbing water from the atmosphere," Leshin said.

In addition to the life-sustaining water recovered in Mars' surface soil, NASA researchers also found a toxic chemical known as perchlorate, which is also believed to be extremely common across the red planet.

According to Leshin, perchlorate's presence on the red planet will be a challenge to those who develop future manned Mars missions.

"Perchlorate is not good for people," Leshin said. "We have to figure out, if humans are going to come into contact with the soil, how to deal with that."

"That's the reason we send robotic explorers before we send humans — to try to really understand both the opportunities and the good stuff, and the challenges we need to work through," she added.

The published study also revealed information about Mount Sharp, the rover's main destination since it landed in Mars' huge Gale Crater in August 2012, as well as the "Jake Matijevic," a type of volcanic rock never before seen on the red planet named after a deceased mission member.

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"The amount of information that comes out of this rover just blows me away, all the time," Curiosity lead scientist John Grotzinger, a geologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, told SPACE.com. "We're getting better at using Curiosity, and she just keeps telling us more and more. One year into the mission, we still feel like we're drinking from a fire hose."

Related stories:

Water on Mars: Evidence Suggests Ocean Covered Third of Red Planet

Rounded Pebbles on Mars Reveal past Flowing Water

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