You know how smug tourists like to talk about how climbing volcanoes in Hawaii is out of this world? Turns out they're sort of right.
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is finally starting to get some conclusive analysis from its very slow soil scooping mission, and the mineralogy looks strikingly similar to the worn, volcanic soil in Hawaii. The scientists in charge of this part of the mission are just beside themselves. "This was a 22-year journey and a magical moment for me," NASA's David Blake, head of the mineralogical instruments on the Curiosity, told reporters in announcing his team's findings. It seems like waiting 22 years only to discover that the soil on another planet is a lot like ours seems kind of anti-climactic. But Blake seems excited, so we won't rain on his parade.
In truth, the fun is just getting started. As the rover makes its way to a three-mile-high pile of dirt known as Mount Sharp, they should get closer to answering the question of whether or not the Red Planet once supported life. "We're hopeful that once we get into the truly ancient materials on Mount Sharp, we will find minerals that suggest there was a habitable environment of some kind there," Blake explained. "We haven't had that happen yet, but we have a lot of time left."
If you thought the soil-scooping mission was slow going -- Curiosity collected about a scoop of soil a week -- you'd better get some popcorn for the Mount Sharp expedition. NASA doesn't expect Curiosity to reach Mount Sharp until early 2013.