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Mars’ watery past

A rock, known as Tintina, broke under one of the Mars rover Curiosity’s wheels to reveal a striking white interior. The bright veins contain hydrated minerals. Photo: PA

A rock, known as Tintina, broke under one of the Mars rover Curiosity’s wheels to reveal a striking white interior. The bright veins contain hydrated minerals. Photo: PA

More signs of past water on Mars have been uncovered by the American space agency Nasa’s Curiosity rover.

Scientists believe that billions of years ago water poured down the rim of the Gale crater and formed streams that might have been up to 90cm deep

Powder drilled from a Martian rock last week revealed evidence of drinkable water and conditions favourable to life.

Now, instruments on the rover have found more water-bearing minerals in the area around the rock.

Curiosity is exploring a region within Gale Crater, near the Martian equator, called Yellowknife Bay.

Scientists believe that billions of years ago water poured down the rim of the crater and formed streams that might have been up to 90cm deep.

The new discoveries were made using the infrared imaging capability of Curiosity’s mast camera, and an instrument that shoots neutron particles into the ground to probe for hydrogen.

Differences in brightness between near-infrared wavelengths of light can indicate the presence of some hydrated minerals that have been altered by water.

“We see elevated hydration signals in the narrow veins that cut many of the rocks in this area,” said Melissa Rice, from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “These bright veins contain hydrated minerals that are different from the clay minerals in the surrounding rock matrix.”

The Russian-made Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (Dan) instrument detected hydrogen in water molecules bound into minerals in the soil beneath the rover.

Yellowknife Bay contained more water than other areas previously visited by Curiosity, the results showed.

“More water is detected at Yellowknife Bay than earlier on the route,” said Dan deputy principal investigator Maxim Litvak, from the Space Research Institute in Moscow. “Even within Yellowknife Bay, we see significant variation.”

The findings were presented at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.

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