Sunday, August 03, 2008

Mars, Moon, and Earth soils at issue

Recently, the internet has been alive to rumors of a big announcement to come on a major Mars discovery, something to do with one of its chemical detectors. Since those detectors have been doing analysis on soil, I thought I might take a moment to familiarize myself with the basic soil composition of the Moon and of Mars to see how they differ.

The above pie-chart shows the basic elemental make-up of Lunar soil. Mars soil, however, has many similarities, but a noticeably different weighting of some of the elements:
The make-up of Mars soil (by percent) is approximately as follows[2]:

  • oxygen 40 - 45
  • silicon 18 -25
  • iron 12- 15
  • potassium 8
  • calcium 3 - 5
  • magnesium 3 - 6
  • sulphur 2 - 5
  • aluminium 2 - 5
  • cesium 0.1 - 0.5
The earth's basic composition is as follows:

By percent, the Earth breaks down as follows[3]:

Oxygen O2 46.6%
Silicon Si 27.7%
Aluminum Al 8.1%
Iron Fe 5.0%
Calcium Ca 3.6%
Sodium Na 2.8%
Potassium K 2.6%
Magnesium Mg 2.1%
others 1.6%

I'm sure all the big issues will revolve around the "others" category. Carbon is the element that virtually all living things require, and marks the major difference of earth. Maybe they found some of that, or perhaps something to do with the odd source of methane that's been noted in Mars. If nitrogen were found in the soil, this might make things much easier to grow for future missions. The soil has already been found hospitable to certain earth plants. As for now, who knows what NASA will say.



[1] "Lunar Soil Composition" University of Wisconsin-Madison (Accessed Aug 3, 2008)

[2] "Martian Soil" CSA - Mission to Mars (Accessed Aug 3, 2008)

[3] "Elements in the Earth's Crust" Windows to the Unviverse (Accessed Aug 3, 2008)

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