NASA: Ancient Mars could have supported life

Posted By Kristen Butler, UPI.com   |   March 12, 2013 at 3:16 PM   |   Comments

March 12 (UPI) -- NASA scientists on Tuesday revealed the results of testing after the Curiosity rover drilled into an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater on Mars.

"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. "From what we know now, the answer is yes."

An analysis of the rock, called 'John Klein', shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.

Scientists identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon, which researchers call "some of the key chemical ingredients for life." Furthermore, the presence of clay minerals indicated that the water running through the sediment had a neutral pH -- critical for life. The presence of calcium sulfate suggests the soil is also neutral or mildly alkaline. Unlike the surface of the Red Planet, the rock samples were gray, with only partial oxidization.

"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," said Paul Mahaffy, principal investigator of the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

"We have characterized a very ancient, but strangely new 'gray Mars' where conditions once were favorable for life," said John Grotzinger, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist. Additional samples will be collected to confirm these results and scan for organic material that may still be preset in the sediment.

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