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NASA rover Curiosity: Opal found unexpected water deposits on Mars

New analysis methods have detected traces of opal in old data from NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover, a potentially important source for manned missions to the Red Planet. Because the mineral contains water in a relatively accessible form, no large deposits of it are known at the planet’s equator. Anyway, according to the analyses, there is about 3.7 liters of water in the top 30 centimeters of every square meter of soil in the investigated areas of Gale Crater, scientists have now announced.

In addition, new insights into the history of Mars can be gleaned from the discovery, because opals formed much later than other formations. Water also appeared on the surface much later than previously assumed. As the research team explains about physicist Travis GabrielThe water in agate can be obtained by grinding the mineral and adding heat.

The deposits weren’t just found at sites Curiosity later examined as part of its mission. Gabriel and co-author Sean Czarnicki found that the rover was imaging similar-looking formations long before it joined the mission. By pure coincidence, he had already driven on one of those. These are fracture lines in a completely different rock than what Curiosity is looking for now. This highlighted the extent of garnets in the crater. A renewed analysis of long-archived data and new measurements at Curiosity’s former site would have confirmed the water-related occurrence.

This discovery is not only important for potential manned missions, but it also reveals that conditions suitable for living directly below the surface may have persisted for much longer than expected. “These environments were formed long after the previous lake in Gale Crater had dried up,” Gabriel says.

With this discovery, the Curiosity mission, which has been running for more than ten years so far, once again shows its scientific value. The rover landed on Mars in 2012 and has been exploring Aeolus Mons in Gale Crater ever since. There he found traces of once favorable conditions on Mars, where liquid water likely existed in lakes and rivers billions of years ago.

The discovery of the opal deposit, now confirmed with the Dynamic Albedo Neutron Spectrometer (DAN), now indicates that water was still present at a later time. Is served Study in the journal Geophysical Research: Planets.


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