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Curiosity reveals conditions in Mars once suited for life

KD Suarez
NASA scientists revealed that a rock sample collected by the Curiosity rover contained elements that are crucial to life, opening the possibility that the planet could have supported living microbes

This set of images compares rocks seen by NASA's Opportunity rover and Curiosity rover at two different parts of Mars. On the left is " Wopmay" rock, in Endurance Crater, Meridiani Planum, as studied by the Opportunity rover. On the right are the rocks of the "Sheepbed" unit in Yellowknife Bay, in Gale Crater, as seen by Curiosity. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS

MANILA, Philippines – Are we closer to finding out if there was life on Mars? 

NASA scientists on Tuesday, March 12, revealed that a rock sample collected by the Curiosity rover contained elements that are crucial to life, opening the possibility that the planet could have supported living microbes.

The sample came from the “Yellowknife Bay” area near the planet’s Gale Crater, and it was described as made up of fine-grained mudstone with clay and sulfate minerals and other chemicals. NASA said the area could have been the end of an ancient river system or an seasonal lake bed, and this provided ideal conditions for microbes to live.

Curiosity used its Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instruments to test the rock sample, and analysis of the sample showed that it contained sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, phosphorous and carbon, all key chemicals for life to exist.

It revealed a mix of oxidized, less oxidized, and non-oxidized chemicals that provide an energy gradient that microbes on Earth would use to live. This was already hinted at by the rock color revealed when the rover first drilled for the sample, scientists added.

“The range of chemical ingredients we have identified in the sample is impressive, and it suggests pairings such as sulfates and sulfides that indicate a possible chemical energy source for micro-organisms,” according to Paul Mahaffy, lead investigator handling the SAM instruments and based at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

They will conduct further drilling on the rock to help confirm the results.

“A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment… from what we know now, the answer is yes,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist of the Mars Exploration Program.

“We have characterized a very ancient, but strangely new ‘gray Mars’ where conditions once were favorable for life,” added John Grotzinger of the Mars Science Laboratory.

The rover will continue to work at the area in the coming weeks before going to Mount Sharp, where it will also investigate rock samples to help answer the question on Mars’ ability to harbor life. – Rappler.com

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