Just in time for the holiday season Curiosity has just gifted the world another slain loaded space data. There is now mounting evidence that ancient Mars was pretty habitable over larger areas in longer periods of time than we ever thought. Well, the Curiosity rover a.k.a. the Mars Science Laboratory landed on Mars in August of 2012. Part of its mission is to find evidence a past life. Since then we've been giving you updates about its findings now it's been a few months. But researchers working with Curiosity presented a truckload dated today at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco, California.
Simply, last checked Curiosity it steered off its planned course toward Mount Sharp to investigate some curious looking formations. Including what looked like an Alluvial Fan—a deposit that forms lake inlets in a five meter deep trench called Yellowknife Bay. When it arrived the deposit, Curiosity captured images what appeared to be layers of fine-grained sedimentary rock. Mission scientist explained today that this kind of rock form out of sediments that had settled to the bottom of a body of water. So, Curiosity drilled through the bottom layer deemed Sheepbed in with its Chemin instrument used X-rays to determine the formations basic chemical makeup. Sure enough, it's a mudstone—a sedimentary rock that forms in water.
Habitable Red Planet
Now, Curiosity's previous sample rocknest was also a mudstone. What's new here is that everything we've learned so far indicates that Gale Crater. The massive crater that Curiosity has been rovings since its a year and a half ago—was itself actually an ancient lake. Not only that, Gale Crater was a very habitable lake.
Chemin determined that the two samples taken from sheepbed known as John Kleine and Cumberland are rich in carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur. All elements that are key ingredients to live and that can be used as energy sources for that life. While curiosity didn't detect phosphorus and nitrogen to have the most important elements for life. It did detect compounds that form in the presence of phosphorus and nitrogen. Chemin also detected a slew of compounds like Authigenic Magnetite that only form in environments of neutral pH and low salinity. That is environments that are friendly to life as we know it here on Earth. All this reinforces previous findings from the rocknest sample. So, it now seems Gale Crater was a big lake with water that is so nice you could drink it!
On top of that, images seen as the lake had been there for a really long time. Mission specialists used Chemin to measure the levels of various isotopes in the rocknest sample to determine the amount to weathering that had undergone. The estimated that it formed about 4.1 million years ago. The results were the same for John Kleine and Cumberland. Suggesting that the whole area was covered with water at that time.
Martian Possible Living Organisms
Geologist studied photos of the Yellowknife Bay and sheepbed. They found a complex layering the features like ridges. Suggesting that Gale Crater had a long complex affair with water. So, they think that the lake lasted for tens of thousands and possibly hundreds of thousands of years. Given all that time and a large lake rich in mineral and energy. What kind of life could have materialized?
Chemolithoautotrophs are simple organisms that derive their energy from mineral compounds. Something a bit weird maybe, but, on Earth these extreme files can be found in lots of places. They tend to do especially well in unspeakably hot or dark places like caves and thermal vents. Where no other organisms dare to do well.
Eagerness to Uncover the Past on Mars
Still, no sign of life past or present on Mars and experts want to be clear about that. The new results from Gale Crater add to evidence that Mars could once have posted something like them. With these result that seems like signs of past habitability are being found across bigger and bigger areas in longer stretches of time. Which means that with each new result we get closer to that last remaining stab of actually finding signs of past life on Mars.