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Water Discovered on Mars, Could There be Life on the Red Planet?

Update Date: Sep 28, 2013 03:01 AM EDT

NASA's Curiosity Rover has found water-embedded soil on Mars and a mature, almost Earthlike, geology, the space agency reported on Friday.

Curiosity has detected traces of water chemically bound to the Martian dust that seems to be covering the entire planet. The finding, among several in the five studies published online Thursday by the journal Science, may explain mysterious water signals picked up by satellites in orbit around the Red Planet.

"One of the most exciting results from this very first solid sample ingested by Curiosity is the high percentage of water in the soil," said Curiosity researcher Laurie Leshin, of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "About 2 percent of the soil on the surface of Mars is made up of water, which is a great resource, and interesting scientifically."

Curiosity is decked out with several sophisticated instruments to gather data from the Red planet in order to analyze for signs of life. Using Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) unit, researchers were able to detect water using the instruments gas chromotograph, mass spectrometer, and tunable laser spectrometer.

"We tend to think of Mars as this dry place - to find water fairly easy to get out of the soil at the surface was exciting to me," said Laurie Leshin, dean of science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and lead author on the Science paper which confirmed the existence of water in the soil. "If you took about a cubic foot of the dirt and heated it up, you'd get a couple of pints of water out of that - a couple of water bottles' worth that you would take to the gym."

About 2 percent of the soil, by weight, was water"We heat [the soil] up to 835C and drive off all the volatiles and measure them," said Leshin. "We have a very sensitive way to sniff those and we can detect the water and other things that are released."

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