Video | Business Headlines | Internet | Science | Scientific Ethics | Technology | Search

 


NASA Rover Finds Conditions Once Suited For Life On Mars

03.12.2013

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA Rover Finds Conditions Once Suited For Ancient Life On Mars



Two Different Aqueous Environments

This set of images compares rocks seen by NASA's Opportunity rover and Curiosity rover at two different parts of Mars.


PASADENA, Calif. -- 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.

"Clay minerals make up at least 20 percent of the composition of this sample," said David Blake, principal investigator for the CheMin instrument at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

These clay minerals are a product of the reaction of relatively fresh water with igneous minerals, such as olivine, also present in the sediment. The reaction could have taken place within the sedimentary deposit, during transport of the sediment, or in the source region of the sediment. The presence of calcium sulfate along with the clay suggests the soil is neutral or mildly alkaline.


Studying Habitability in Ancient Martian Environments

This set of images shows the results from the rock abrasion tool from NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity (left) and the drill from NASA's Curiosity rover (right).

Scientists were surprised to find a mixture of oxidized, less-oxidized, and even non-oxidized chemicals, providing an energy gradient of the sort many microbes on Earth exploit to live. This partial oxidation was first hinted at when the drill cuttings were revealed to be gray rather than red.

"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 SAM suite of instruments at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

An additional drilled sample will be used to help confirm these results for several of the trace gases analyzed by the SAM instrument.

"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 at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. "Curiosity is on a mission of discovery and exploration, and as a team we feel there are many more exciting discoveries ahead of us in the months and years to come."

Scientists plan to work with Curiosity in the "Yellowknife Bay" area for many more weeks before beginning a long drive to Gale Crater's central mound, Mount Sharp. Investigating the stack of layers exposed on Mount Sharp, where clay minerals and sulfate minerals have been identified from orbit, may add information about the duration and diversity of habitable conditions.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project has been using Curiosity to investigate whether an area within Mars' Gale Crater ever has offered an environment favorable for microbial life. Curiosity, carrying 10 science instruments, landed seven months ago to begin its two-year prime mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more about the mission, visit: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl . You can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at: http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity

2013-092

ENDS


© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Business Headlines | Sci-Tech Headlines

 

Media: Julian Wilcox Leaves Māori TV

Māori Television has confirmed the resignation of Head of News and Production Julian Wilcox. Mr Maxwell acknowledged Mr Wilcox’s significant contribution to Māori Television since joining the organisation in 2004. More>>

ALSO:

Genetics: New Heat Tolerant Cow Developed

Hamilton, New Zealand-based Dairy Solutionz Ltd has led an expert genetics team to develop a new dairy cow breed conditioned to thrive in lower elevation tropical climates and achieve high milk production under heat stress. More>>

Fractals: Thousands More Business Cards Needed To Build Giant Sponge

New Zealand is taking part in a global event this weekend to build a Menger Sponge using 15 million business cards but local organisers say they are thousands of business cards short. More>>

Scoop Business: NZ Net Migration Rises To Annual Record In September

New Zealand’s annual net migration rose to a record in September, beating government forecasts, as the inflow was spurred by student arrivals from India and Kiwis returning home from Australia. More>>

ALSO:

Scoop Business: Fletcher To Close Its Christchurch Insulation Plant, Cut 29 Jobs

Fletcher Building, New Zealand’s largest listed company, will close its Christchurch insulation factory, as it consolidates its Tasman Insulations operations in a “highly competitive market”. More>>

ALSO:

Scoop Business: Novartis Adds Nine New Treatments Under Pharmac Deal

Novartis New Zealand, the local unit of the global pharmaceuticals firm, has added nine new treatments in a far-ranging agreement with government drug buying agency, Pharmac. More>>

ALSO:

Crown Accounts: English Wary On Tax Take, Could Threaten Surplus

Finance Minister Bill English is warning the tax take may come in below forecast in the current financial year, as figures released today confirm it was short by nearly $1 billion in the year to June 30 and English warned of the potential impact of slumping receipts from agricultural exports. More>>

ALSO:

Get More From Scoop

 
 
Standards New Zealand

Standards New Zealand

Mosh Social Media
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sci-Tech
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news