NASA’s $2.5 billion mission to Mars aboard the rover Curiosity traveled 352 million miles through the deep cold of space for eight months to deposit itself on the surface of an alien world.
Now, after all that, scientists have learned that the rover sits atop soil one might find right here on the flanks of Mauna Kea.
In a Tuesday press release, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported the rover’s first Martian soil sample studies revealed minerals similar to the weathered basaltic soils of volcanic origins found in Hawaii.
Of course, such results aren’t really a surprise, said Ken Hon, head of the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s geology department. Instead, these experiments serve to fill in gaps and solidify data provided by prior explorations into the red planet’s geologic history.
“They’re finding that the same range of compositions that we see here on our island exist on Mars,” he said. “They had already found most of that through remote sensing, but they didn’t have the same sophisticated instruments we have on (Curiosity). Now we have the hard numbers.”
According to the NASA release, Curiosity utilized its Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, or CheMin, to obtain the results from a sample collected on Oct. 15. It uses X-ray diffraction, a standard practice for geologists on Earth. X-ray diffraction reads minerals’ internal structure by recording how they interact with X-rays.
“So far, the materials Curiosity has analyzed are consistent with our initial ideas of the deposits in Gale Crater recording a transition through time from a wet to dry environment,” said David Bish, CheMin co-investigator with Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.