back to article WET SPOT found on MARS: NASA rover says 'high percentage'

NASA scientists have reached a milestone in their quest to find life on the Red Planet after discovering significant traces of water in the Martian soil. The Mars Curiosity Rover discovered water when investigating the very first scoop of soil it took from the surface of Mars. The extraterrestial explorer analysed the dusty …


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  1. Graham Marsden

    I'm sure...

    ... I saw someone saying something about The Waters of Mars recently.

    Now Who was it?

  2. Timmay

    Only now?

    How has this amazing fact only just been discovered? I thought the whole point of most of the recent missions to Mars was basically to look for water - were we really only driving about hoping to stumble across rivers and streams?

    1. Annihilator

      Re: Only now?

      No, the purpose of the mission was to look for evidence that life had ever existed on Mars. It's goal isn't to look for water, or even for present life.

      We've known about water on Mars for almost 10 years now, it's concentrated mostly at the poles, but Spirit and Phoenix have both found water samples in the dirt, and atmospheric vapour exists too.

      1. Vociferous

        Re: Only now?

        Wrong. The mission is not to look for life, it is to look for water. Yes, really.

    2. Tom 11

      Re: Only now?

      Nah, it was the endless stream of selfies which delayed the actual science here...

      1. Mike Flugennock

        Re: Only now?

        Actually, the "selfies" were important both from an engineering standpoint -- in order to inspect the rover -- and to determine its situation in relation to its general surroundings.

        Of course, the fact that they also looked really cool was an added bonus. That huge high-res mosaic self-portrait that they shot with the hand-lens imager really knocked my socks off.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Only now?

      Yeap - I was kinda wondering why this wasn't the first bleeding obvious thing to do....

      1. Annihilator

        Re: Only now?

        "Yeap - I was kinda wondering why this wasn't the first bleeding obvious thing to do...."

        Because it's like sending a boat into the ocean and testing to see if it's salty. We know it is already.

        1. Wzrd1 Silver badge

          Re: Only now?

          "Because it's like sending a boat into the ocean and testing to see if it's salty. We know it is already."

          True enough, though my napkin figures suggested about 100 times less in the surface soil.

          Don't think it's the napkin that is at fault, only a full understanding of the processes involved outside of our STP.

    4. Lars Silver badge

      Re: Only now?

      Yes, I can understand your point. Water exists but now we also know there is a small amount in the soil. Perhaps that was expected, as it was, as such an experiment was made. Now we can also prove it. When you explore you try to think in advance what there could be. The instruments sent there give an idea of what could be expected, but it gets really interesting when you find something you did not expect and that is the beauty with science.

      Take black matter, we "know" it is there but we have not yet been able to invent an instrument to prove it. Not so long ago we had no instruments to detect rontgen ratiation either.

      1. Annihilator

        Re: Only now?

        @Lars - " Water exists but now we also know there is a small amount in the soil. Perhaps that was expected, as it was, as such an experiment was made. Now we can also prove it."

        That's my point. We've proven it many many times already over the course of various orbiters and landers. This wasn't looking for it specifically, they just analysed the content of the soil. Water was known to be in there already.

        @Vociferous - it's really simple - the basic objective of Curiosity: "could Mars have ever supported life". It includes understanding the *role* of water, not find it. As per the link above, there's enough water on Mars to cover it to a depth of 35m if it were free-flowing.

        1. Vociferous

          Re: Only now?

          @Annihilator: Curiosity is not equipped to detect life. It's looking for water, for traces of water in rock, for water ice, for water vapor. Not life. Read your own link and see that the word "life" isn't in it.

          And the "35 meters of water" is intentionally misleading. It's only true if Mars was a perfect sphere with zero permeability; using the same estimate for Earth "proves" that the Earth has enough water to cover the planet in 2.5 kilometers of water!

          The reality is that Mars has sufficient water for a few of moderate-sized lakes. At most.

          1. Annihilator

            Re: Only now?

            Are you reading about a different Curiosity? From that very link:

            "As established by the Mars Exploration Program, the main scientific goals of the MSL mission are to help determine whether Mars could ever have supported life, as well as determining the role of water, and to study the climate and geology of Mars. The mission will also help prepare for human exploration."

            I've also never said Curiosity is looking for life. It's looking for whether life could have existed.

            1. Vociferous

              Re: Only now?

              By "life could have existed" they mean "did Mars have liquid water", because liquid water is a prerequisite of life. That's what Curiosity is designed to look for. It isn't looking for life, it isn't looking for traces of life (e.g. fossils), it's looking for _traces of liquid water_.

              The only probe to Mars which was designed to look for life is the Viking landers in the 70's.

              1. CCCP

                Re: Only now?

                And today's prize for the most useless comment (apart from this one) goes to...


                Enjoy your short lived fame in these halls of mostly intelligent debate.

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Only now?

                Water is a prerequisite for life, that is life as we define it at the moment.

                Considering we only have our planet and life forms to make such an assumption, we are being a bit narrow minded.

    5. TheVogon

      Re: WET SPOT found on MARS

      Did they have to roll it in flour?

  3. phuzz Silver badge

    What has science done for us recently? Nuclear powered laser tank on Mars! That's what!

    Although personally I'm most impressed by it's mass spectrometer being only the size of a shoe box.

    1. bonkers


      Me too,

      mass-spectrometers no longer have a huge magnet and a curved vacuum path, look up "quadrupole mass spectrometer" - no that's not four of them, its a clever oscillating field where only the particles that are neither too heavy nor too light (for their charge) are the only ones that stay on the beam line. They're about the size of a KT66 thermionic valve (tube).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: QMS

        Upvoted for the reference to my beloved KT66. KT66, acorn tubes, trigger pentodes - valves were interesting in a way that MOSFETs will never be. You can't re-getter a failing MOSFET with an induction loop.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Nuclear powered laser tank on Mars

      Now there is water, how long before the laser sharks are sent there?!?!?!

  4. Duckman

    ".............heat it just a bit, and obtain water." They heated the soil to over 800 degrees Celsius. That's a lot of hot.

  5. Captain Scarlet

    Oh Sorry

    I dropped a glass of water on the floor as I was leaving :(

  6. d3rrial

    Healthy water

    Because distilled water is known to carry many healthy nutrients.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Please tell me there is no bacteria...

    ...if there is, we're's our only chance of beating them.

  8. ElNumbre

    Organic Compounds from Earth

    Does that mean, if they keep going through this heat cycle, and the levels of organic compounds remain about the same during each test, that there is a higher likelyhood that those compounds are part of Martian atmosphere.

  9. MerryChristmas

    over 100,000 people want a one way ride to mars probably to die during transit or soon after from radiation!!!!!!! crazy!!!!!!!

    1. Vociferous

      You wouldn't die from a trip to Mars.

      The radiation levels are higher than on Earth, but unless you're really unlucky and there's a solar eruption when you're in transit, not lethally so. The radiation level would be estimated to double your risk of cancer, and since everyone gets cancer if they live long enough, that translates to a ten year shorter estimated lifespan. An astronaut who traveled to Mars and back would receive sufficient radiation that he would not be allowed to fly any more missions in space after that - but he'd still be better off than if he had stayed on Earth and taken up smoking instead.

      There's a lot of FUD about travel to Mars going around, apparently spread by the people hell-bent on having a moon base instead (I've never understood why - there's nothing on the Moon, no raw materials, no life, nothing. The appeal of Luna is that it's close and easy to reach, which aren't good reasons to go there, much less spend 300 billion on a base).

      1. Mike Flugennock

        Re: You wouldn't die from a trip to Mars.

        "...There's a lot of FUD about travel to Mars going around, apparently spread by the people hell-bent on having a moon base instead (I've never understood why - there's nothing on the Moon, no raw materials, no life, nothing. The appeal of Luna is that it's close and easy to reach, which aren't good reasons to go there, much less spend 300 billion on a base)..."

        As someone who firmly believes we should get our asses to Mars, I think a lunar base would be important as a test bed for many of the technologies we'd need to perfect before going to Mars -- plus there's the added advantage of Earth only being a couple of days' travel away, and within range of near-real-time voice/video communication if something went seriously south.

        Plus, there's the potential usefulness of a lunar base as a way station. A lunar base as an end-all-be-all wouldn't be such a hot idea, but as a test bed and a stepping stone, it could be very useful if done right.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Thus the nucular treatment

      Give evolution a little time to do its thing. I predict Japan will become a great space-faring nations some generations into the future, with their radiation-hardened humans and all that.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Thus the nucular treatment

        Ridiculous! Gigantic biorobots launched from underneath Tokyo and driven by schoolgirls is where it's at!

  10. MerryChristmas


    over 100,000 people want a one way ride to mars probably to die during transit or soon after from radiation!!!!!!! crazy!!!!!!!

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Suicide!!!!!!!

      Not taking risks is suicide. The self inflicted death might take a while to notice, but 'staying safe' means the exact opposite of what you'd think.

  11. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. frank ly

      Re: Lies and obfuscation!

      'Laurence' perhaps? Needs more research.

  12. MrSpok

    Just heat it up a bit?

    They say you could just scoop up some soil, heat it up a bit and get water. You mean to "835 degrees Celsius"? Not like your average Zippo Lighter can get that hot. I think it's a little more complicated.

    You'd have to gather hundreds of yards of soil to get a couple of gallons of water. The soil is only 2% oxygen, that's not a lot. How much fuel would it take to heat that up? Oh and there's no oxygen so how are you going to BURN FUEL? That's right, NUCLEAR REACTION. And you need water to cool your reactors.

    It's cheaper and easier to mine for gold on earth than it would be to mine for water on Mars. On Mars, water would be the most valuable substance!

    I think they're better off working on melting polar ice.

    1. andreas koch

      @ Mr Spok & Vociferous - Re: Just heat it up a bit?

      Ok, There's plenty of water at the poles. But it's at the poles, and that is a problem. It's much, much harder to touch down at the pole than at the equator, just as it's much harder to start from high latitudes. There's a reason for lauch sites being not situated in Siberia, Iceland or Alaska.

      Taking that in, you'd have to go to the pole. Doesn't seem like a big deal, Jeremy Clarkson has done it, and Mars is smaller than Earth.

      But without infrastructure this trip is about as hard as the trip to Mars in the first place. You'd have to build successive camps and provision dumps along the route to have any real chance. And then you bring back how much? 100 gallons? Because you don't want to set up a camp there, where the temperatures are way below what they are in the equatorial regions. Your exhaled air would freeze, which means full feature space suit, your heating bill would rocket (uselessly, though [SCNR]) and your solar panel output would probably go down to 20% of a level attainable around 0°N. You could just as well be on the moon; the trip's shorter and the gravity lower, so it's easier to land, launch and lug things about.

      The "heaty" bit. I'm not a NASA analyst, so this is guesswork, but: I'm sure the samples aren't heated to 800 and something degrees to find water. they are heated to 800 and something degrees to produce analysable vapours of all kinds of compounds. Water will eventually boil/ evaporate at something like 20° C or so on Mars, due to the thinner atmosphere (only 600Pa compared to the 10kPa here on Earth). This doesn't sound so bad any more, it'd probably even be possible with direct sunlight concentration methods (solar oven style). I could also imagine that the water content might be a bit higher further down, due to less natural occurring evaporation and less radiation heating.

      But the better way, I think, and the time to do this is now, is to just drop icey asteroids onto the surface. At the moment all we can hurt there is a couple of robots. As soon as there's settlers sitting there, you have to aim much better, which raises the cost of the whole operation. If you can drop, let's say, a million tons worth of asteroid with a water content of 50% and loose 25% of that water on entry (evaporation in the uppermost layers of the atmosphere, where it would get swept away by solar wind. Evaporation in the lower atmosphere isn't really lost globally.) you'd still end up with almost 400.000 m3. Rinse well and repeat. The asteroids could be targeted with a minimal energy trajectory; it doesn't matter whether they arrive in 3 months or 10 years. Just shove them into a declining solar orbit that eventually ends up on the next available planet.

      I think it's doable.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: @ Mr Spok & Vociferous - Just heat it up a bit?

        Fund it!

        Just because it's fun and it lead to moans about the Pristine Female-ish Martian Desert being ruthlessly violated by the patriarchic Hand of Man!


        1. andreas koch

          @Destroy All Monsters - Re: @ Mr Spok & Vociferous - Just heat it up a bit?

          Ah, this is where you think wrongly, it wouldn't lead to moans at all!

          Mars, you know, is the personification of the male war god, and thereby it's every conscientious womyn's duty to pelt it with female-power ice lumps.

          If you market that right, it'll be easily funded by slapping an extra $/£/€ on ladies products.

    2. Don Jefe

      Re: Just heat it up a bit?

      The infrastructure for melting the Martian polar ice is already in place. A bit of digging will uncover it. All it needs to get back to work is for someone to push the start button.

      1. M Gale

        Re: Just heat it up a bit?

        The infrastructure for melting the Martian polar ice is already in place

        Not unless we're in an old Arnie movie, it isn't.

  13. Vociferous

    2% moisture isn't a lot.

    In fact, it's very little.

    If you pick the driest paper you have, and you live in a dry place - the Arizona desert, say - then it MAY contain as little as 2% water.

    The Martian water is likely pore water, and you'll need to heat the soil a lot to release it. The best way to get water on Mars is still to seek out patches of water ice in the polar regions.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Boffins" appears only once, Not even a 'space boffin' in the piece. V.poor.

    1. jon10001

      Well it has long been established that men are from Venus and women from Mars. And it took them this long to find the Wet Spot?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        And it took them this long to find the Wet Spot?

        Venus was still lying in it.

  15. Belcher

    Mars attacks

    So the aliens will be here soon then. "Bags of mostly water" - Sci-Fi fans only will understand

    1. Steven Davison

      Re: Mars attacks

      ugly, you missed ugly

      ugly bags of mostly water.

  16. DF118

    Damp patch found on Mars

    NASA dogging club denies responsibility.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    if time and land are not a huge concern

    Maybe some kind of solar still farm to extract water from the soil?

  18. ted frater

    I wonder if Curiosity has a small chamber where some of this soil can be put, add some water and a seed from earth here, and see what happens? It would need some martian atmosphere to stop the water evaporating like in a vacumn. Co2 to oxygen? as a byproduct?

    Half way to terraforming.

  19. Get the puck outa here

    Bicarbonate of soda will produce hydrogen and oxygen if it's heated "a little bit" to 835C.

    Does that mean there is life on Alka-Seltzer?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Does that mean there is life on Alka-Seltzer?

      No, but you won't get sodium hydrogen carbonate unless at some point you had some water around the place. The hydrogen ion has to come from somewhere. Sodium carbonate + excess carbon dioxide + water -> sodium hydrogen carbonate. (Na2CO3 + CO2 + H2O -> 2NaHCO3 )

  20. tempemeaty

    Trickle trickle trickle.....

    The information about Mars has been a very very slow miniscule trickle. It's good after all this time they have finally found that they can release the fact water can be found on Mars. Congrats to NASA for finally releasing this information.

    Now that other pesky little problem....organics. If that takes as long to get to as the water data we all will be dead and buried before NASA claims to have found anything about it. Hell there may be video coming back from Chinese astronauts on Mars before then.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Trickle trickle trickle.....

      Information 'trickling out' is a very positive indicator good science is being done. There is nothing speedy about well done scientific research; that's why the process is so well respected. Letting the common person, journalists and politicians in on scientific matters before they are conclusive horribly skews findings and future research. Letting people in and/or poor information out is a proven bad idea: That's how climate change research got derailed.

      There is plenty of good science being done on climate change but the results of that research don't answer the big question: Is AGW real? All people want is an answer to the big question but are both, too impatient for answers and ignorant of how science works; in long, exhaustive and 'boring' experiments that try to prove one tiny little thing.

      People want the 'BIG answer' so badly they manipulate and politicize the scientific process to meet their own preconceived notions of what is happening. Even El Reg, this bastion of journalistic integrity, is guilty of skimming research abstracts and creating their own conclusions. That makes for bad science and both camps of the AGW debate are equally guilty. Involving the general public, the press and politicians has turned the entire thing into a farce.

      From water on Mars,to AGW, to the origins of Terran life, if you want quick answers without qualifications and caveats you can just make them up yourself*. They'll surely be more meaningful to yourself and be just as scientifically valid as any string of words you can construct to further your own agenda. If you want to know a little more of the truth, then you just have to wait.

      *Yourself being the generic yourself, not the specific you.

  21. sciguybm

    "just heat and drink"

    really. just heat and drink... why do you all think we are morons?

    First: what OTHER chemicals are there?

    Second: 1 in 50, so "heat & drink" yields what, 500 gallons of water until all used up?

    Third: sending AN astronaut? a few dozen and the "heat & drink" theory gets alittle overworked.

    No, this is just continued hype for sending earthlings to Mars paid for by someone's, anyone's, budget.

    1. andreas koch

      @ sciguybm - Re: "just heat and drink"

      You're a bit aggressive in your posts, aren't you? Calm down . . .

      And if you really think that all "boffins" are "idiots" (from a former post) for just uttering statements without backing data, then please clarify where your 500 gallons come from. Surely there's more Mars than 95 tons worth?

      Looking forward to some explanation.

  22. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    I might consider going

    If they find Martian beer (or vodka)

  23. Doug Bostrom

    Is it real?

    This is intriguing but considering that I'm reading in the same venue where Andrew Orlowski is published, I guess I'll have to verify it elsewhere.

    Thanks anyway.

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