From its primary excavation location on Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover has for the first time sampled the soil on the red planet. Although NASA has not yet found any organic compounds, it did find a complex chemistry of water, sulfur, and chlorine-containing substances.
Curiosity is the first Mars rover able to scoop soil into analytical instruments, and the tests have demonstrated the rover's scientific capabilities to analyze rock samples, something that's expected to continue for the next two years. These initial tests came from a drift of windblown dust and sand called "Rocknest," seen here, which is inside Gale Crater and still miles away from the rover's main destination on the slope of a mountain called Mount Sharp.
Analyzing gasses emitted from the samples heated in its tiny oven, the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite and the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument found the composition is about half common volcanic minerals and half non-crystalline materials such as glass. SAM added information about ingredients present in much lower concentrations and about ratios of isotopes, which can provide clues about environmental changes.
December 3, 2012 2:50 PM PST
Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems