Although separated by millions of kilometers, the Earth and the Red Planet, Mars, may appear very different. But it seems that when it comes to the fundamentals, they are quite similar. This is, of course, being investigated and discovered with increasing success as the NASA Mars rover Curiosity has been quite active since landing on the planet on Aug. 6. Since then, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) has discovered one trove after another, as it discovered an ancient water flow in the Gale Crater’s surface and a specimen of Martian volcanic rock that closely resembled samples found on earth. Now, after feeding itself with Martian soil and analyzing the samples, Curiosity has found that the soil itself is basaltic, or volcanic in nature, closely resembling soils found in Hawaii, itself predominantly basaltic.
On its way to the geological junction within the crater, identified as Glenelg, Curiosity stopped off on the way by a rocky area designated the Rocknest, where it has been for past couple of weeks. Before taking in the soil sample, Curiosity was scrubbing its tools with Martian sand in order to decontaminate any possible earthly substances that may have been on the equipment and after doing this ingested its first soil sample, feeding it to one of its on board laboratories, the CheMin, which analyzed the sample using X-ray diffraction.
The MSL’s analysis has revealed that the soil sample taken was a mixture of different parts being largely basaltic but containing samples far off parts of Mars, most likely deposited by the global storms that occur on the planet as well as some samples of “local provenance.” According to mission scientists, the sample contained a great deal of the minerals feldspar, olivine and pyroxene.
Speaking about the analysis, David Bish, co-investigator on the CheMin experiment, said, "So far, the materials Curiosity has analyzed are consistent with our initial ideas of the deposits in Gale Crater, recording a transition through time from a wet to dry environment,” adding that, "the ancient rocks, such as the conglomerates, suggest flowing water, while the minerals in the younger soil are consistent with limited interaction with water."
Before Curiosity heads off towards Glenelg, having already travelled 480 meters, it will next ingest soil samples to be fed into its other on board laboratory, the Sam, or the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, perhaps the most important piece of equipment on board the rover, as it is tasked with analyzing samples for carbon containing molecules, key indicators of any possible organic substances that may exist on the Red Planet, and indeed possibly even point towards some clue of life on the planet.