Mars may have once supported life

CNN news photoMars had the capability of supporting life in the past, specifically of microbial life. This finding through the help of the rover Curiosity was announced on March 12.

Conclusions were reached by the scientists after studying the latest observations sourced out with the help of NASA’s Curiosity. It just analyzed the first-ever sample gathered from the Red Planet’s interior of a rock. Last month, February, the rover curiosity drilled 2.5 inches or 6.4 in centimeters into a random rock on a Martian outcrop that the mission scientists have dubbed as “John Klein.” On-board instruments Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) found some of the chemical ingredients that supports life in the collected powder. The chemical ingredients included hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, carbon and phosphorus. The compound mixtures also suggested that the area may have contained chemical energy sources for potential Red Planet microbes, the scientists stated. The sample also contains clay minerals, showing that the rock was surrounded by a benign aqueous environment, like a lake with neutral pH, billions of years back.

Curiosity found no evidence that life ever really existed on Mars, but the results suggest that the John Klein site possibly supported microbes billion of years ago, if they evolved or were transported to the Red Planet. It is known even before that water had flowed on the surface of Mars long ago. “But there’s more to habitability than the mere existence of liquid water,” researchers say.

A site must have the right chemical makeup and a potential energy source for microbial life to survive and all of the ingredients were present at John Klein. The instrument SAM can detect complex organics but it has not found anything conclusive as for now, though the rover did find two simple chlorinated organics in a scoop of soil both at John Klein and another site named Rocknest late in 2012. Complicated organics such as amino acids however are not to be found on the sites.

“But such molecules are not necessary for life to thrive. Here on Earth, many microbes do just fine by incorporating inorganic carbon — such as that contained in carbon dioxide — into their metabolic processes. And SAM did detect carbon dioxide in the John Klein sample. That’s what we’re real excited about,” Curiosity chief scientist of John Grotzinger said to reporters on Tuesday. “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.”

Mars is considerably less hospitable to life now for it is much drier and colder as of present time. Some scientists, however, think that the Red Planet may still be capable of supporting microbial life in protected and damp pockets underneath its surface.

The rover Curiosity has no plans of retiring after this recent discovery. Scientists stress that Curiosity’s mission is driven by discovery, meaning they will shale plans around whatever the rover discovers as it drives around the Martian surface. The team of scientists  for Curiosity is planning to continue search for signs of complex organics and explore other sites. John Klein is not the final destination for the Rover for at some point, Curiosity will turn towards deposits at the base of Mount Sharp. Mount Sharp is the three mile high mountain that rises from the center of Gale Crater.


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