The planet, most likened to earth may have once been habitable, according to research being conducted on Mars with NASA’s curiosity rover.
Powder from an ancient rock, believed to have been apart of what once was a river system or lake bed, at the rover’s crater landing site has been found to contain clays, sulphates and other minerals, key to the existence of life.
Scientists, at a news conference at NASA headquarters this week, explained how water once flowed through an area known as Yellowknife Bay and was most likely drinkable.
“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 there, you would have been able to drink it,” said the rover study’s lead investigator John Grotzinger.
The evidence of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon – the building blocks of life – suggests the planet may have once been able to support organisms.
“A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment,” said Michael Meyer, a lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program.
“From what we know now, the answer is yes,” Meyer said.
“But we don’t know how long-lived it was. And so that’s always a challenge we’ve got on Mars. It’s not like the rocks come with numbers on them that tell you how long the water was there or how much there was there ultimately”, he added.
Curiosity, the rover responsible for the discovery, is a six-wheeled robot with 10 scientific instruments on board and is one of the most sophisticated vehicles ever sent to another planet. The 2.5 billion dollar nuclear-powered machine has been exploring Mar’s surface since its August 6 landing last year.
The discovery left some NASA officials reportedly feeling ‘giddy’, but they were quick to point out they did not expect to encounter any aliens or living creatures.
The new data will help scientists understand what the planet may have looked like once upon a time (at least 3 billion years ago).
Curisoity’s mission on mars is expected to last two years in total, with 17 months left the team ahs already begun planning the next possible sites to take rock samples as well as a route to nearby Mount Sharp where further analysis could shed more light on dating.