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 claim.
Curiosity rover finds ancient network of rivers on Mars that could have made parts of the planet habitable for microbial life
“We have found a habitable environment that is so benign and supportive of life that probably if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it,” said John P. Grotzinger, the California Institute of Technology geology professor who is the principal investigator for the NASA mission.
Mars rover Curiosity — a self-contained science laboratory about the size of a Mini Cooper — sent back to Earth convincing evidence that Mars was once awash in water.
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Plus, the Curiosity scientists identified elements in the rocks — sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon — that are some of the key ingredients of life, as well as minerals, like sulfates and sulfides, that primitive microbes could eat for food.
This is the best ever evidence that life exists or existed on other planets.
Two earlier NASA rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, also found strong evidence of liquid water on the Martian surface, but in places on the planet that were highly acidic and salty — far harsher for any hypothetical organisms.
Sometime about 3 billion years ago, the conditions on Mars changed. With just one-tenth the mass of Earth, Mars was unable to hold on to most of its atmosphere. The inside of the planet cooled and the volcanoes stopped erupting. The water froze or evaporated and escaped into space. Mars became cold and dry.
Curiosity landed in August in a 96-mile crater named Gale, gouged long ago by a meteor, and has been roaming in the area since then. The rover’s ultimate destination is a three-mile-high mountain at the center of the crater that caught the eye of scientists because they detected the presence of clays in observations taken by orbiting spacecraft. Now, long before getting to the mountain, scientists have already found the clays, and these rocks would be prime candidates to look for organics.