Mars Could Have Supported Life, NASA Says
Awesome news from NASA.
NASA/Jpl-Caltech, via Cornell, via Msss European Pressphoto Agency
Two images of the surface of Mars from the Opportunity rover, left, and the Curiosity rover. Scientists are studying Martian rocks for evidence of past life.
Several billion years ago, Mars may well have been a pleasant place for tiny microbes to live, with plenty of water as well as minerals that could have served as food, NASA scientists said on Tuesday at a new conference on the latest findings from their Mars rover. But they have yet to find any signs that actual microbes did live in that oasis.
“A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “From what we know now, the answer is yes.”
In drilling into its first rock, the scientists said, the rover Curiosity — a self-contained science laboratory about the size of a Mini Cooper — sent back to Earth convincing evidence that the environs of Mars were once awash in water.
In addition, the Curiosity scientists identified minerals in the rocks that primitive microbes could eat for food. NASA characterized the elements they found — sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon — as “some of the key chemical ingredients for life.”
That includes the presence of clays, one of the main things that scientists were hoping to find there. Clays form in waters that have a neutral pH.
These minerals are “effectively like batteries,” said John P. Grotzinger, the California Institute of Technology geology professor who is the principal investigator for the $2.5 billion NASA mission.