NASA’s Mars rover rover Curiosity may have made a crucial discovery
Posted On July 10, 2021
By By Sarah Tew/[email protected] and By Associated Press /Associated PressA Mars rover may have stumbled across the first hint of ancient soil on the Red Planet, as researchers said Wednesday the rover’s drill core showed signs of having been touched by water.
The Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which was named after a popular 1970s sitcom character, landed in Gale Crater, a crater on the surface of the Red Mars in August.
It was carrying three scientific instruments, including the Mast Camera and its instrument to search for evidence of ancient microbes.
A NASA analysis of the drill core revealed signs of contact with ancient soil that had been carried by water, a major step toward identifying the surface soil conditions and possibly indicating whether it was the site of an ancient lakebed.
The findings could help archaeologists better understand how water flowed through the ancient lake beds, a key step in the search for ancient lakes.
The drill core, which had been sealed in a plastic container with a lid, was found near a small streambed and its contents had not been exposed to the air, said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The results were released in the journal Science, along with the rover drill core’s full color images, on Wednesday.
Researchers have not yet determined whether the water penetrated the rock or whether it flowed through it.
The drilling drill core was being cleaned out of a metal bag, and the bag was opened to expose the core.
The researchers said the core was a typical drill core for an early Mars exploration rover, although it was not drilled with a large drill head and had a narrow bore.
A team of researchers led by NASA’s John Grunsted, principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers Mars Science Laboratory, said they analyzed the drill and found no signs of any water penetrating the rock.
Grunsfield and colleagues say they think the water came from the rock itself.
Scientists say the drill cores of early Mars rovers, including Opportunity, Curiosity and other rovers on Mars, have been the only samples of rock drilled with large drill heads.
The drilling core of the Curiosity rover is shown in this image from NASA’s HiRISE camera on Aug. 21, 2015.NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, built the Curiosity Rover to search the Red Martian surface for evidence that the Red World was once a wet place, and scientists are looking for signs of past water activity.
The discovery is important because it will help scientists determine whether ancient lakes existed on the red planet and whether they were present when the Earth and Mars were young.
The new results also could help determine how the Red Moon was formed, scientists said.NASA has a suite of instruments aboard the rover to explore the Red and Blue planets, including instruments to study the atmosphere of Mars, as well as the surface composition of Mars.