This is not a drill. About 2% of Martian soil is good old-fashioned water.
Ok, so the molecules are bounded up with other components of the soil and the dirt has to be heated to access them. I don’t care. That’s a lot of H2O, and it’s the first sign of water on Mars that isn’t ice. Curiosity, NASA’s intrepid little rover making it’s way around the Red Planet, made this discovery while testing soil samples and NASA scientists have now published a number of papers with appropriately complicated titles describing the findings. Basically, the water’s there, but it isn’t (or is no longer) flowing. Instead, it’s embedded in the soil itself. According to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute scientist Laurie Leshin:
We tend to think of Mars as this dry place – to find water fairly easy to get out of the soil at the surface was exciting to me. If you took about a cubic foot of the dirt and heated it up, you’d get a couple of pints of water out of that – a couple of water bottles’ worth that you would take to the gym.
Basically, this is incredibly awesome. I’m in space nerd heaven. But what does it mean for Mars exploration? Well, there are a number of other hurdles to tackle before we can start toting our water bottles to Martian gyms, including toxic chemicals in that same soil. Plus, I’m certain that NASA will want to test whether or not the water will turn explorers into freaky water zombies like on Doctor Who. That’s arguably the most crucial question. After all, the existence of water suggests that Mars may have once supported life, so I’m not ruling out the Ice Warriors here. If they turn out to be real, remember that I called it.
Until that happens, I guess all we can do is watch Red and pretend to be Martian settlers drinking Martian water and having Martian drama and decidedly not turning into Martian water zombies. Nobody wants to be a Martian water zombie.
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