NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows a scoop full of sand and dust lifted by the rover's first use of the scoop on its robotic arm
(Photo : Reuters)
Soil examined by NASA's Martian space rover Curiosity bears a strong resemblance to the soil found near one of Hawaii's most prominent volcanoes, NASA scientists say.
According to the findings released Tuesday, soil scooped up by Curiosity's Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument-known better as CheMin-contained traces of feldspar and olivine, minerals associated most commonly with volcanic eruptions, such as Mauna Kea, the Huffington Post reported.
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Standing 13,796 feet above sea level, the volcano is the highest point in Hawaii.
"This was a 22-year journey and a magical moment for me," NASA's David Blake, lead scientist for the rover's mineralogical instrument, told reporters during a conference call, the Chicago Tribune wrote Tuesday.
Curiosity took its first sampling of Martian dirt earlier this month, reported by NASA scientists Oct. 19, and dropped it into the CheMin tool for analysis via X-rays.
The rover-part of a $2.6 billion Mars exploration project-is using several tools in order to determine if Mars could have ever supported microbial life, MSNBC reports.
"The mineralogy of Mars' soil has been a source of conjecture until now," Curiosity scientist David Vaniman of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, told the Tribune.
"This interest isn't just academic," he added. "Soils on planets' surfaces are a reflection of surface exposure processes and history, with information on present and past climates."
Roughly half the soil is made up of non-crystalline substances, like volcanic glass, that are created from rocks breaking down, the Tribune reports.
Several processes may have resulted in the texture of the soil, like interaction with water or oxygen, a process alike to how rust forms on iron-metal surfaces.
Brute force, such as sandstorms or meteorite impacts, also could account for the soil's weathered components, chemist Douglas Ming of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, told the Tribune.
Up next, NASA is planning to send Curiosity towards the three-mile high Mount Sharp on Mars, hoping to find traces of minerals that could suggest evidence of a habitable environment that could support life.