NASA’s Curiosity rover, which has been exploring the Martian surface, has found water-rich opal in the fractured halos in the Red planet’s Gale crater, according to a report in space.com. The discovery holds significant importance as it may serve as an important resource for human exploration, as it shows that Mars has a vast network below the surface that could provide water-rich and radiation-shielded conditions that are more hospitable than the surface. Scientists hope that they will be able to harvest the water stored inside these opals one day, which could act as a resource for crewed missions.
The Curiosity rover is currently exploring the Gale crater at the equator of the Sun-blasted planet (where the conditions are extremely harsh) and had previously beamed data back from its spectrometer. The NASA scientists compared those images with the new ones and found a ring-like structure of a light-colored sediment, which later turned out to be opal.
“Our new analysis of archival data showed striking similarity between all of the fracture halos we’ve observed much later in the mission. Seeing that these fracture networks were so widespread and likely chock-full of opal was incredible,” said research physicist Travis Gabriel, formerly of the University of Arizona.
Given the widespread fracture networks discovered in Gale Crater, it’s reasonable to expect that these potentially habitable subsurface conditions extended to many other regions of Gale Crater as well, and perhaps in other regions of Mars,” Gabriel said.
In August of last year, Curiosity completed 10 years of exploring Mars. Its primary task was to search for signs of life.