31/10/2012 15:57 GMT | Updated 31/12/2012 10:12 GMT

Nasa's Curiosity Rover Finds 'Hawaii-Like Soil' On Surface Of Mars

Nasa's Mars rover Curiosity has found soil on the Red Planet which is eerily similar to that found in Hawaii.

The announcement was made after the robot's Chemistry and Mineralogy Instrument examined its latest samples with X-rays.

The rocks and dust were scraped from an area named "Rocknest" and excluded pieces larger than 0.006 inches in width.

Using techniques far in advance of any used on Mars previously, the researchers found that much of the soil was made of "basaltic" material, which probably originated in a volcano - just like in the islands of Hawaii.

Scientists hope the samples will reveal new clues about how the planet came to be in its current state - and potentially whether it was ever able to support microbial life.

"Much of Mars is covered with dust, and we had an incomplete understanding of its mineralogy," said David Bish, CheMin co-investigator, in a Nasa release.

"We now know it is mineralogically similar to basaltic material, with significant amounts of feldspar, pyroxene and olivine, which was not unexpected. Roughly half the soil is non-crystalline material, such as volcanic glass or products from weathering of the glass. "

Since August the £2.5bn mission has been examining the Gale Crater on the planet, testing its systems and examining rock samples. It will take roughly another 18 months to two years to complete its tasks.

It has already moved about 480m from its landing site.

"We had many previous inferences and discussions about the mineralogy of Martian soil," said David Blake of NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field. "Our quantitative results provide refined and in some cases new identifications of the minerals in this first X-ray diffraction analysis on Mars."