NASA Rover Finds Conditions Once Suited for Ancient Life on Mars

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An analysis of a rock sample collected by NASA’s Curiosity rover shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.
Scientists identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon — some of the key chemical ingredients for life — in the powder Curiosity drilled out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater on the Red Planet last month. 

“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.” 

Clues to this habitable environment come from data returned by the rover’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instruments. The data indicate the Yellowknife Bay area the rover is exploring was the end of an ancient river system or an intermittently wet lake bed that could have provided chemical energy and other favorable conditions for microbes. The rock is made up of a fine-grained mudstone containing clay minerals, sulfate minerals and other chemicals. This ancient wet environment, unlike some others on Mars, was not harshly oxidizing, acidic or extremely salty. 

The patch of bedrock where Curiosity drilled for its first sample lies in an ancient network of stream channels descending from the rim of Gale Crater. The bedrock also is fine-grained mudstone and shows evidence of multiple periods of wet conditions, including nodules and veins. 

Curiosity’s drill collected the sample at a site just a few hundred yards away from where the rover earlier found an ancient streambed in September 2012.
Written By: JPL
continue to source article at jpl.nasa.gov

9 COMMENTS

  1. Not the actual life I was hoping they’d find but this is a bit of a god shrinker anyway. If water and the chemical mix needed for life are not even rare in our own solar system, these conditions must abound in the universe.

    If life is not found on Mars, maybe it was just one little trigger, like a long enough stretch of an ideal temperature or a bit of energy that’s missing or an odd mix of things. Whatever it is, science will find it and and creationism will resemble John Cleese’s disembodied head trying to guard the bridge in Python’s “Holy Grail.”

    • rjohn19

      “Must” is a bit strong. “Are more likely to”, perhaps.

      Oh, and it was his torso, but yeah.

      Jon Snow

      Then again, there are always gaps. God seems to have the structure of a Cantor Set for some reason. I don’t see that this’ll have much more effect than the cosmonaut who said “I see no angels up here” (or similar).

      • In reply to #6 by PERSON:

        Then again, there are always gaps.

        Well there are uncertainties, but ‘gaps’ is a far to strong a determinant declaration.
        And ‘gaps’ get filled anyway, that is a feature of science and a rather pesky bug for alternate explanations.

        God seems to have the structure of a Cantor Set for some reason.

        God seems to have a structure of wishful thinking for some reason also!

        Multi-structured concept this deity, depends on who you ask for what structure is perceived, remarkably the subjective seems to fulfil all descriptions…for some other reason!

        I don’t see that this’ll have much more effect than the cosmonaut who said “I see no angels up here”

        Yep another nail in the coffin of a dogma that claims a reality that refuses to reveal itself.

        It would seem statistically extremely significant that in a middling to unremarkable solar system generated by a yellow run of the mill unprepossessing sun in the backwaters of a stellar arm on the fringes of a galaxy that is truly in the outback of the cosmic neighbourhood that it seems possible that …not one but two lifeforms could evolve and nominally flourish!

        It would not seem to fit neatly into theist boasts that this planet is the be all and end all of divine benevolence and as such renders human as the pinnacle of design in a universe that apparently has the ability to create life almost anywhere, from ovens of sub-Saharan to the deep freeze of the Antarctic tundra’s to the tops of mountains and the depths of oceans where critters warm their ‘bones’ by the black smokers!

        The point of this discovery is a confirmation that life could have survived there quite easily apparently given the revealed chemistry, and life seems to need no excuse not to populate a niche, in fact it seems it is more difficult to block life then encourage it..

        I suggest the Drake equation might yet be given a confirmed new constant to plug in ;-) …one guaranteed to always give a positive result!
        Kind of pushes the relevance and necessity of a divinity further to the background somewhat.
        It is also suggested that ‘gaps’ might not be the best place to hide, they do tend to get filled sooner rather then later.

  2. From the teleconference John Gotzinger indicated that the conditions they can extrapolate and from other geological indications it would appear that life developed on Earth at about the same time as the conditions were optimal on Mars!

    This raises a very important point and a much deeper question…

    Are we Martian?

    This news is huge and possibly the most profound humanity has ever discovered.

    That it happens now in the 21st century and within our lifetime is serendipitous, it is also very cool!

    The Martian quip higher up is semi-serious, it is a possibility, because two planetary bodies in such proximity in orbit in the same solar system, that evolved to offer the conditions suitable to sustain life seemingly at about same epoch, does not appear to be just coincidence…did one seed the other?…and which is the progenitor?

    Did life extend further out to the Jovian satellites?…the game has changed somewhat.

    What before was Sci-Fi speculation is now basically confirmed.

    Next organics! Will they find them?…seems the odds have crashed mightily, it might even be strange if they do not!

    But first drilling and analysis, that is not just lucky that is a brilliant example of how science works, all the strands came together, all the clues were there, they went where is was indicated, and they hit pay dirt!

    Now that is what I am talking about..Well done NASA…you have probably changed the philosophy of civilization for ever!
    Of course if Methane crops up in an atmospheric spike, we have something else much more profound to consider!

  3. If further research and exploration confirms that once in the past there was a habitable environment on Mars, the next stage to do would be to find out asap what happened to that environment and what caused its destruction as this could happen here on Earth and perhaps we could learn how to avert a similar fate, depending on the causes of the disaster. If there was water it would be of great help to know what happened to it. Perhaps we could learn better ways to preserve our water.

    • In reply to #3 by Odalrich:

      If there was water it would be of great help to know what happened to it. Perhaps we could learn better ways to preserve our water.

      It’s thought that Mars lost its atmosphere due to solar wind. Without the atmosphere present, liquid water doesn’t hang around for very long.

    • In reply to #3 by Odalrich:

      If further research and exploration confirms that once in the past there was a habitable environment on Mars, the next stage to do would be to find out asap what happened to that environment and what caused its destruction as this could happen here on Earth and perhaps we could learn how to avert a similar fate,
      depending on the causes of the disaster.

      Earth has a magnetic field protecting its atmosphere. It is also greater, so has stronger gravity to retain an atmosphere. Nevertheless we are losing thousands of tonnes of light gases from the upper atmosphere.

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16787636 – Why: Is the Earth getting lighter?

      “Physicists have shown that the Earth is losing about three kilograms of hydrogen gas every second. It’s about 95,000 tonnes of hydrogen that the planet is losing every year.

      “The other very light gas this is happening to is helium and there is much less of that around, so it’s about 1,600 tonnes a year of helium that we lose.”

      We are gaining some mass from about 40,000 tonnes space dust falling on to Earth each year.

      If there was water it would be of great help to know what happened to it. Perhaps we could learn better ways to preserve our water.

      The temperature and atmospheric pressure are so low on Mars, that all of its water is now solid ice or vapour.

  4. In reply to #4 by Kim Probable:

    In reply to #3 by Odalrich:If there was water it would be of great help to know what happened to it. Perhaps we could learn better ways to preserve our water.It’s thought that Mars lost its atmosphere due to solar wind. Without the atmosphere present, liquid water doesn’t hang around for very long.

    Thank you for the lesson. I wonder if the solar wind could affect in the same way our planet’s atmosphere.

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