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WatSen: searching for clues for water (and life) on Mars

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 October 2006

Monica M. Grady
PSSRI, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK Department Mineralogy, The Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK e-mail:


There is plenty of evidence for fluid on Mars: large-scale (planet-wide) features have been captured over four decades by a procession of orbiting satellites equipped with cameras with increasingly higher spatial resolutions. Imagery of the surface shows channels, valleys, ice-caps, etc. Small-scale, more local evidence for fluid has come from images obtained by rovers on the Martian surface. Images that water produced many of the features are supported by spectroscopic measurements (again both planet-wide and local) over a range of wavelengths, which show the presence of minerals generally only produced in the presence of water (haemetite, jarosite, etc.). Results from meteorites continue this picture of fluid activity taking place over significant periods of Mars' history. Despite all these indicators of water, direct detection of water has never been performed. We have reviewed the evidence for water on Mars' surface, and have described WatSen, a combined humidity sensor and infrared IR detector, which can be employed to search for water at and below Mars' surface. WatSen is designed to be part of the suite of instruments on the mole that will be deployed as part of the Geophysics and Environment Package on ExoMars. The objectives of the package are as follows: (i) to detect water within Martian soil by measuring humidity and IR spectral characteristics of the substrate at surface and at depth; (ii) to determine the mineralogy and mineral chemistry of surface soils (this measurement will provide the mineralogical context for the elemental results that come from other instruments mounted on the landing platform); (iii) to determine how mineralogy changes with depth. The utility of WatSen is that it will not only detect the presence of water, but will also be able to record which minerals are present and their chemistry; it is also sensitive to many organic species. WatSen is a new instrument concept specifically designed to search for clues of the presence of water, and to look for evidence of life on Mars.

Research Article
2006 Cambridge University Press

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