On a two-year Mars mission to explore Gale Crater, the rover, Curiosity, discovered that water once existed on the red planet. On target is Yellowknife Bay, the lowest point on Gale Crater with signs it used to be an ancient riverbed of flowing water.
National Geographic reports that NASA has finally hit the jackpot by uncovering the complex geological history of the area, preparing to drill for local organics and perhaps discovering what their composition may be.
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."
Unexpected mineral finds are what prompted NASA scientists to begin drilling instead of moving onto another location. Gale Crater has been labeled as having intriguing new evidence of water in a rock-bed shot through with unexpected veins of what appears to be mineral gypsum. "According to a new study, Martian meteorites contain a surprising amount of hydrated minerals, which have water incorporated in their crystalline structures."
The mineral gypsum contains calcium sulfate (calcium, sulfur, oxygen) and water.
Richard Lovett, one of the authors of National Geographic News, says, "... if water exists today in the Martian mantle, that means the red planet likely had a lot of water in its interior all the way back to the moment the planet formed."
Original plans were for Curiosity to visit Gale Crater while enroute to the mountain, Aeolis Mons, a large mountain in the center of Gale Crater. Referred to as Mount Sharp, the name of the mountain was picked to honor the late Caltech geologist Robert Sharp. But after the exciting discoveries at Gale Crater, it will take awhile for Curiosity to move toward Mount Sharp.
Curiosity will begin drilling this month, states Wired. "A veined rock in Yellowknife Bay nicknamed 'John Klein' will be the first drill site for the Curiosity rover. The area contains a wide diversity of rock types." What makes this so important is that its the first time NASA engineers have drilled onto another planet's surface.