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NASA's Curiosity Makes More Water Discoveries Despite Setbacks

Mar 19, 2013 09:42 AM EDT
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It's been a rough ride for the rover Curiosity.

It started in late February when the rover's A-side computer glitched. Then, just as those working the rover finished switching to the machine's B-side mission managers, fearing a major solar flare, put it into standby mode. Then on Monday, the mission's chief scientist announced that the rover once again was going into safe mode due to a computer file error. And as if that wasn't enough, due to the alignment of both Mars and Earth, communication with the rover may not be possible until May.

Not all of NASA's scientists, however, are anxious to get to their destination of Mount Sharp, a mountain higher than any found in the United States' contiguous 48 states. The reason lies in what discoveries Curiosity has been able to make in between its technical difficulties.

Currently located in an area scientists have named Yellowknife Bay, Curiosity has found more evidence of water than any site it has visited thus far, according to a press release from NASA.

In addition, among the orange-red dust, Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam) has picked up bright white lines indicative of higher levels of hydration.

"These bright veins contain hydrated minerals that are different from the clay minerals in the surrounding rock matrix," Melissa Rice of the California Institute of Technology said.

But it doesn't stop there.

Among its other chores, Curiosity is charged with sweeping the rocks. As it does, scientists are able to get a better read of the rocks' compositions, leading them to believe that the "sedimentary rocks at Yellowknife Bay likely formed when original basaltic rocks were broken into fragments, transported, re-deposited as sedimentary particles, and mineralogically altered by exposure to water."

Ultimately, the setbacks the rover currently faces only represent a small moment in its 24-month mission.

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