Mars Rover Finds Intriguing New Evidence of Water
Unexpected mineral finds prompt scientists to decide to drill.
The first drill sample ever collected on Mars will come from a rockbed shot through with unexpected veins of what appears to be the mineral gypsum.
Delighted members of the Curiosity science team announced Tuesday that the rover was now in a virtual “candy store” of scientific targets—the lowest point of Gale Crater, called Yellowknife Bay, is filled with many different materials that could have been created only in the presence of water. (Related:“Mars Has ‘Oceans’ of Water Inside?”)
Project scientist John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said during a press conference that the drill area has turned out “to be jackpot unit. Every place we drive exposes fractures and vein fills.”
Mission scientists initially decided to visit the depression, a third of a mile from Curiosity’s landing site, on a brief detour before heading to the large mountain at the middle of Gale Crater. But because of the richness of their recent finds, Grotzinger said it may be some months before they begin their trek to Mount Sharp.
The drilling, expected to start this month, will dig five holes about two inches (five centimeters) into bedrock the size of a throw rug and then feed the powder created to the rover’s two chemistry labs for analysis.
A Watery Past?
That now desiccated Mars once had a significant amount of surface water is now generally accepted, but every new discovery of when and where water was present is considered highly significant. The presence of surface water in its many possible forms—as a running stream, as a still lake, as ground water soaked into the Martian soil—all add to an increased possibility that the planet was once habitable. (Watch a video about searching for life on Mars.)
And each piece of evidence supporting the presence of water brings the Curiosity mission closer to its formal goal—which is to determine whether Mars was once capable of supporting life.
Curiosity scientists have already concluded that a briskly moving river or stream once flowed near the Gale landing site.
The discovery of the mineral-filled veins within Yellowknife Bay rock fractures adds to the picture because those minerals can be deposited only in watery, underground conditions.