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Scientists say the Martian soil at the rover Curiosity’s landing site contains minerals similar to what’s found on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano.
The finding released Tuesday is the latest step in trying to better understand whether the environment could have been hospitable to microbial life.
Curiosity recently ingested its first soil sample and used one of its instruments to tease out the minerals present. An analysis revealed it contained feldspar and olivine, minerals typically associated with volcanic eruptions. Mission scientists say the Martian soil is similar to volcanic soil on the flanks of Mauna Kea.
Curiosity landed near the Martian equator in August on a two-year mission. It’ll be another month before it drills into its first rock. Then it’s expected to head toward a mountain by year’s end.
When scientists selected a rock to test the Mars rover Curiosity’s laser, they expected it to contain the same minerals as rocks found elsewhere on the Red Planet, but learned instead it was more similar to a rock found on Earth.
The rock was chemically more akin to an unusual type of rock found on oceanic islands like Hawaii and St. Helena, as well as in continental rift zones like the Rio Grande, which extends from Colorado to Chihuahua, Mexico.