An Oregon State University professor is among the first scientists to analyze a rock from Mars that might provide some new insight into the red planet.
The pyramid-shaped volcanic rock, called a mugearite, was analyzed by the Mars Science Laboratory team with a pair of chemical instruments aboard the Curiosity rover.
The scientists stated the rock is unlike any other Martian igneous rock ever discovered.
However, it is similar to mugearites found on Earth, typically on ocean islands and in continental rifts.
Martin Fisk, an OSU marine geologist and professor at the school's College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, said the process that forms these kinds of rocks often suggests the presence of water deep below the surface.
Fisk is the co-author of a report on the rock included in the journal Science, along with two other papers about the soils on mars.
While this potential evidence for water deep beneath the surface of Mars isn't ironclad, the scientists said it adds to the growing body of studies pointing to the presence of water on Mars, an ingredient necessary for life.
"The rock is significant in another way," Fisk said. "It implies that the interior of Mars is composed of areas with different compositions; it is not well mixed. Perhaps Mars never got homogenized the way Earth has through its plate tectonics and convection processes."
The rock has been dubbed "Jake_M," after jet propulsion laboratory engineer Jake Matijevic.
In another study, scientists examined the soil diversity and hydration of Gale Crater using a ChemCam laser instrument.
They found hydrogen in all of the sites sampled, suggesting water, as well as the likely presence of sulphates.
Mars was thought to have three stages -- an early phase with lots of water, an evaporation phase when the water disappeared leaving behind sulphate salts, and a third phase when the surface soils dried out and oxidized -- creating the planet's red hue.