The JPL-managed Mars rover Curiosity found evidence showing the planet once had conditions that could have supported life, NASA officials announced today.
According to the space agency and mission managers at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, an analysis of powder the rover drilled from a rock near an ancient stream bed found samples of sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon — some of the chemical ingredients of life.
“A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment. From what we know now, the answer is yes,” according to Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program in Washington, D.C.
The rock that provided the chemical samples was found by Curiosity in what NASA officials called an ancient network of stream channels that flowed from the rim of the Gale Crater, which the rover has been exploring since it landed seven months ago.
The rover drilled into the rock last month, but results of the testing on the material were released today.
NASA officials said the chemicals found in the rock could support living microbes. Testing is continuing on another drilled sample.
“We have characterized a very ancient, but strangely new ‘gray Mars’ where conditions once were favorable for life,” according to John Grotzinger, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist at JPL. “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.”
Curiosity will continue exploring the stream-bed area for several weeks before making a drive to the center of the Gale Crater, where clay minerals and sulfate materials have been previously identified from orbit, according to mission managers.
NASA officials said exploration of that area could add information about the duration and diversity of habitable conditions on the planet.