On Mars, more water evidence in drilling area

On Mars, more water evidence in drilling area

POSTED: Monday, March 18, 2013 - 11:00pm

UPDATED: Monday, March 18, 2013 - 11:04pm

Last week we learned that, yes, Mars could have hosted life, based on the analysis of powder procured by rover Curiosity drilling into the Red Planet.

Now, data from other instruments on board Curiosity show more evidence of water in the area. The rover's Mast Camera (Mastcam) spotted evidence of water-bearing minerals in the "Yellowknife Bay" area where Curiosity drilled. Mastcam has infrared-imaging capability that allows scientists to detect certain minerals.

Scientists released the news at a briefing at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.

"With Mastcam, we see elevated hydration signals in the narrow veins that cut many of the rocks in this area," Melissa Rice of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena said in a statement. "These bright veins contain hydrated minerals that are different from the clay minerals in the surrounding rock matrix."

Another instrument on board Curiosity adds to these findings. The Russian-made Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons tool detected hydrogen under the rover that appears to be part of water molecules that are bound into minerals. There is more of this evidence of water at Yellowknife Bay than at other sites Curiosity has visited so far, researchers said.

The clay that Curiosity discovered during its drilling must have been created by wet environmental processes, NASA said. The overall mix of chemical elements didn't change much when the clays were produced, scientists said. Information from the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer, a Canadian-made technology, delivered this insight.

The rock outcrop into which Curiosity drilled appears to have an elemental composition that matches basalt, the most commonly seen rock on Mars.

Curiosity landed on Mars on August 6. The rover weighs 2 tons and is about the size of a small SUV. The mission costs $2.5 billion.

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