The first scoop of Martian soil analyzed by NASA’s Curiosity rover held about two percent water, offering hope for hydrating humans who someday explore the Red Planet, scientists said Thursday.
“We saw Mars as a very dry desert and while this is not as much water you will find in Earth soil… it’s substantial,” said Laurie Leshin, lead author of the study in the journal Science.
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.
No global space agency has plans to send people to Mars any time soon, but the United States has said it hopes to launch the first humans there by the 2030s.
Signs of water on the dusty and dry neighbor to Earth 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 different papers in Science, 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 the planet 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.”