Future colonists and tourists on Mars probably don’t need to worry about bringing their swimsuits and inflatable floats, but a series of recently published NASA papers offer evidence that not only did the Red Planet have water on it in the past, but it’s currently harboring tons of it. This is one of the more amazing things I’ve ever been able say to more than one person at a time. This isn’t like, “Hey dude, I just got pulled over for speeding but the cop let me off with a warning.” This is, “Hey guys, we are now pretty certain that there is enough water on Mars to make human habitation there a lot more tangible.” Complications exist, of course, but we’ll get to that.
The papers encompass much of what the Curiosity team has learned from the rover’s first hundred days on Mars. The study’s lead author Laurie Leshin, of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of New York, and her colleagues were looking over the results of soil analysis from samples retrieved back in November 2012. The rover used SAM, the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, to crank up the heat to 1,535 degrees Fahrenheit and identify all of the gases that boiled away. Lots of carbon dioxide, oxygen, and sulfur compounds.