Is there life on Mars? NASA’s Curiosity rover just discovered water on the red planet for the first time! The rover’s first soil analysis found that a scoop of the planet’s surface is composed of two percent water, leading scientists to question if the planet once supported life.

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Published yesterday in the journal Science, an analysis of Curiosity’s discovery found the surface soil on Mars to not only contain water, but also carbon dioxide, oxygen and sulfur compounds. Since it landed in the Gale Crater on August 6, 2012, the rover has been combing the planet’s surface, taking and analyzing samples of rocks and soil on board its built-in analytical suite, transmitting its data to NASA. Designed to be the first rover to process samples of rock on Mars, Curiosity uses equipment like the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) that processes and tests its findings with a gas chromotograph, mass spectrometer and tunable laser that evaluates the chemical compounds in surface rocks and soil, determining not just their content but also the percentage contained in each sample.

With Curiosity’s on-board systems, scientists have been able to glean the most detailed analysis of Martian soil to date. Although water was present, the scientists did not find significant organic materials in the planet’s surface soil. Curiosity has been collecting samples of dust, dirt and soil for the past year, but the findings of the experiments using SAM have inspired the scientists to dig further than the surface soil, and begin drilling into rocks to search for material containing organic compounds. Curiosity’s findings havehelped to direct future research, and the possibility of deriving water from the surface soil should astronauts land on Mars in the future is a promising one indeed.

Via Phys Org

Images © NASA