WASHINGTON – The first scoop of Martian soil analyzed by NASA’s Curiosity rover held about 2 percent water, offering hope for hydrating humans who may someday explore the red planet, scientists said in a study Thursday.
“We saw Mars as a very dry desert, and while this is not as much water as you will find in Earth soil . . . it’s substantial” nevertheless, said Laurie Leshin, lead author of the study, published in the journal Science.
In a cubic foot (28.3 liters) of soil, “you can get maybe a couple of pints [1 pint is 0.47 liters] of water,” said Leshin, dean of science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.
No global space agency has plans to send astronauts to Mars soon, but the United States hopes to launch the first humans to the planet by the 2030s.
Signs of water on Earth’s dusty and dry neighbor are nothing new. Previous space agency rovers and orbiters have found evidence that Mars likely had water — whether in the form of ice, below ground reservoirs or even the drinkable kind — perhaps billions of years ago.
But the latest evidence comes from a suite of 10 of the most sophisticated instruments ever sent to scour the Martian surface aboard the Curiosity rover, which touched down in 2012.
The findings, described in five papers, include the analysis of a scoop of dust, dirt and finely grained soil from a portion of the Gale Crater known as Rocknest. Leshin said the scoop that Curiosity analyzed likely represents what could be found elsewhere on Mars, since it is coated with a thin layer of surface soil.
“We now know there should be abundant, easily accessible water on Mars,” said Leshin. “We probably can find it almost anywhere right on the surface under your feet if you are an astronaut.”