Follow the water? No, follow the Martian salt

The next direction for NASA, in terms of searching for life on Mars, might not be “follow the water” – it might be “follow the salt.” Credit: NASA / JPL / MSSS

You may be familiar with the phrase “follow the water” when it comes to the search for life on Mars, and for good reason – any place on Earth where there is liquid water, there is life. So, logically, the best places to look for evidence of past or present life on Mars would be where there has been liquid water in the past (or perhaps even still is, underground). But now there is also another approach being taken, in terms of possible present-day habitability in particular: follow the salt.

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Has Curiosity found Martian rock varnish?

Before and after image of a rock lasered by Curiosity. The surface of the rock has darkened around the spot hit by the laser. Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory
Before and after image of a rock lasered by Curiosity. The surface of the rock has darkened around the spot hit by the laser. Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

Scientists studying data from the Curiosity rover have found another interesting puzzle, one which may easily have gone unnoticed were it not for one diligent researcher in particular, it was announced last week at the 44th Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference at The Woodlands, Texas.

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Beautiful panorama of Mount Sharp from Curiosity rover

Natural colour version of the Mount Sharp panorama. See links below for full-size versions. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS
Natural colour version of the Mount Sharp panorama. See links below for full-size versions.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

The Curiosity rover is continuing to recover from a couple of computer glitches, and it may be another day or two before resuming full time science operations, so things have been rather quiet lately. Other than of course the big press conference last Tuesday where it was announced that Curiosity has confirmed a previous habitable environment in this area from a long time ago.

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Curiosity rover finds ancient Mars was suitable for life

Bedrock seen by the Opportunity rover (right) which formed in acidic water and bedrock at the Curiosity landing site (right) which formed in non-acidic, pH neutral water, as found in a lakebed. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell / MSSS
Bedrock seen by the Opportunity rover (left) which formed in acidic water and bedrock at the Curiosity landing site (right) which formed in non-acidic, pH neutral water, as found in a lakebed. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell / MSSS

The analysis results of the first-ever rock drilling on Mars, by the Curiosity rover, were announced today by NASA at a press briefing in Washington. The new findings indicate that ancient Mars, at least in this area, was habitable and could have supported some form of life.

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