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Minerals Find Gives New Clues To Life On Mars
Nasa has discovered the mineralogy of Martian soil is similar to balsatic, weathered soils of volcanic origin in Hawaii.
The minerals were found in the first sample of soil collected recently by Mars rover Curiosity using its Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin), said Nasa on its website.
The identification of minerals in rocks and soil is crucial for the mission's goal to assess past environmental conditions. Each mineral records the conditions under which it formed.
Until now scientists had an incomplete understanding of the mineralogical make-up of the dust and fine soil widespread on Mars.
David Blake of Nasa Ames Research Centre said: "Our quantitative results provide refined and in some cases new identifications of the minerals in this first X-ray diffraction analysis on Mars."
David Bish, CheMin co-investigator with Indiana University in Bloomington, said: "We now know it is mineralogically similar to basaltic material with significant amounts of feldspar, pyroxene and olivine, which was not unexpected.
"Roughly half the soil is non-crystalline material, such as volcanic glass or products from weathering of the glass."
CheMin used X-ray diffraction, standard for geologists on Earth, which reads minerals' internal structure by recording how their crystals interact with X-rays.
This method provided a more accurate detection of minerals than any previously used on Mars.
The specific sample was scooped up at a patch of dust and sand that the team named Rocknest. The sample was processed through a sieve to exclude particles larger than 150 micrometres - roughly the width of a human hair.
The sample had at least two components: dust distributed globally in dust storms and fine sand originating more locally.
Unlike rocks Curiosity investigated a few weeks ago, which are several billion years old and indicative of flowing water, the soil material CheMin has analysed points to modern processes on Mars.
These Nasa technological advances have led to other applications on Earth, including compact and portable X-ray diffraction equipment for oil and gas exploration, analysis of archaeological objects and screening of counterfeit pharmaceuticals.
During a two-year period researchers will use Curiosity's 10 instruments to probe whether areas in Gale Crater ever offered environmental conditions favourable for microbial life.