Mars Soil Like Hawaii: Curiosity Rover Finds Dirt To Be Volcanic

Mars Soil Like Hawaii: Curiosity Rover Finds Dirt To Be Volcanic [Video]

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found Mars soil is like Hawaii. But do not expect aliens to have been surfing in the past. Mars is still as dry as can be, with “limited interactions with water” as samples show. The soil is now known to be half composed of non-crystalline material such as volcanic glass or products from weathering of the glass.

“This Martian soil that we’ve analyzed on Mars just this past week appears mineralogically similar to some weathered basaltic materials that we see on Earth,” said CheMin co-investigator David Bish. The example he cited to reporters included the “weathered soils on the flanks of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.” Bish continued, “Much of Mars is covered with dust, and we had an incomplete understanding of its mineralogy. We now know it is mineralogically similar to basaltic material, with significant amounts of feldspar, pyroxene and olivine, which was not unexpected.”

According to Fox News, Curiosity found Mars’ soil to be like Hawaii’s by analyzing the soil with its Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, or CheMin for short. CheMin studies soil and powdered rock samples using a technique called X-ray diffraction, which reads the structure of minerals by interpreting how X-rays bounce off of them. Earth-based geologists do this all the time, but, for Curiosity, NASA scientists had to shrink the instrumentation down from a refrigerator-sized box to that of a shoebox.

“We can tell you, first of all, what minerals are present, and secondly, how much of each mineral is there,” said CheMin principal investigator David Blake, of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “So it’s really the first full-up quantitative instrument for doing this work on Mars.”

Next up is to see whether Mars has, or can, sustain life as we know it using the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument for the first time. We already know that water may have been present on Mars at one time. The first SAM results should be coming soon.

“We hope to be at this location for about another week, and today we will begin the uplinking process for the part of the experiment that feeds the sample eventually to the SAM instrument,” said Curiosity lead scientist John Grotzinger of Caltech in Pasadena. “About a week or 10 days from now, we should be getting data back from the conclusion of that.”

SAM has already detected traces of methane. Previous projections have shown that a quantity of 200 to 300 tons of methane is produced annually on Mars. How to explain such a large quantity? One hypothesis proposes the source to be geological methane sources in Mars’ interior. Another hypothesis claims that high-energy UV radiation triggers the release of methane from meteorites, which continuously impact on the Martian surface. Methane is also a gas that is commonly produced by living organisms here on Earth, so a popular hypothesis is that this methane might be produced by Mars-based organic life. But the mission team isn’t ready to announce any results or conclusions from SAM yet.

Curiosity has already found Mars soil is like Hawaii, but the SAM results should be more interesting. “Stay tuned,” Grotzinger said.

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