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article imageOp-Ed: Big game changer? Water in Mars surface makes a huge difference

By Paul Wallis     Sep 28, 2013 in Science
Sydney - The Mars Rover Curiosity has returned positive samples of water in Martian surface materials. This discovery effectively confirms years of theory and speculation regarding Martian water.
Science Daily:
The first scoop of soil analyzed by the analytical suite in the belly of NASA's Curiosity rover reveals that fine materials on the surface of the planet contain several percent water (Note: 2 percent according to other reports) by weight. The results were published today in Science as one article in a five-paper special section on the Curiosity mission. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Dean of Science Laurie Leshin is the study's lead author.
To clarify: A percentage of water, by volume, equates to a significant amount of water overall by extrapolation. Scientists involved in the analysis also point out that the Martian surface has been thoroughly mixed by storms and dust movement, so a sample of this type can equate to a “Martian rock collection” in terms of overall projections. It’s also possible that the surface contains less water than substrates.
The subject sample also contained CO2, oxygen, and sulphur, organic precursor elements on Earth. A compound of chlorine and oxygen, not defined by the report, was also found.
Also interesting was evidence of interaction between the surface and the atmosphere.
In addition to determining the amount of the major gases released, SAM also analyzed ratios of isotopes of hydrogen and carbon in the released water and carbon dioxide. Isotopes are variants of the same chemical element with different numbers of neutrons, and therefore different atomic weights. SAM found that the ratio of isotopes in the soil is similar to that found in the atmosphere analyzed earlier by Curiosity, indicating that the surface soil has interacted heavily with the atmosphere.
Given the nature of the Martian atmosphere as it now is, this interaction may hold a lot of clues to the history of Mars.
The ramifications of water on Mars
A lot of speculation about supporting human life on Mars has naturally related to sourcing water and sourcing hydrogen for energy from water. The new findings are basically a prelude to the sort of research required to explore Martian water as a resource.
The Martian samples contain less water than Earth’s soil, as Space Daily reports:
In a cubic foot (0.03 cubic meters) of Martian soil, about the size of a block that is a foot wide, tall and deep, "you can get maybe a couple of pints (0.47 liters) of water out of that," said Leshin, who is dean of science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute…
Two percent, using water recycling and water efficient technology, could equate to a giant leap for the hopes of interplanetary colonists and drastically simplify the problems of self-sufficient Martian colonies.
Keep an eye on the followup research. This is going to get interesting.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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