Mars does have water

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  • Published: Sep 27, 2013
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Atomic / Raman / NMR Knowledge Base / X-ray Spectrometry / Proteomics / Base Peak / Infrared Spectroscopy / UV/Vis Spectroscopy / Chemometrics & Informatics / MRI Spectroscopy
thumbnail image: Mars does have water

Water is present on Mars, but it is bound up with minerals present in the soil, say NASA scientists. This is one revelation in a series of five papers published in Science which give details of some of the findings from the scientific instruments aboard the Curiosity rover.

The SAM instrument heated samples of fine Martian soil and measured the volatile compounds given off. They found 1.5-3 wt.% water, as well as carbon dioxide, oxygen and sulphur dioxide. It is highly likely that the water is present in the amorphous content of the soil particles.

The carbon and hydrogen isotope ratios of the volatilised water and carbon dioxide, which were also measured, were similar to those found in the Martian atmosphere, indicating that the soil interacts with the atmosphere. "The isotopic ratios, including hydrogen-to-deuterium ratios and carbon isotopes, tend to support the idea that as the dust is moving around the planet, it's reacting with some of the gases from the atmosphere," said lead author Laurie Leshin.

The only organic compounds that they found were artifacts, produced from the traces of terrestrial organics that were transported from Earth within SAM. "We find that organics are not likely preserved in surface soils, which are exposed to harsh radiation and oxidants," said Leshin. "We didn't necessarily expect to find organic molecules in the surface fines, and this supports Curiosity's strategy of drilling into rocks to continue the search for organic compounds. Finding samples with a better chance of organic preservation is key."

In other results from Curiosity, the X-ray diffractometer in the CheMin instrument discovered ten distinct minerals: plagioclase, forsteritic olivine, augite and pigeonite, with minor amounts of K-feldspar, magnetite, quartz, anhydrite, hematite, and ilmenite. Samples from the Rocknest drift contained a high proportion of amorphous materials. On Earth, that can be an indication of volcanic deposits..

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