Curiosity Rover Finds Ancient Mars Lake Was Able To Support Diverse Microbial Life

Posted: Jun 4 2017, 3:10am CDT | by , Updated: Jun 4 2017, 3:16am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Curiosity Rover Finds Ancient Mars Lake was Able to Support Diverse Microbial Life
The evenly layered rock on Mars imaged in 2014 by NASA's Curiosity rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The environmental conditions on ancient Mars lake differed significantly at different depths, times

A crater on Mars is providing more evidence of life on the planet. Combined with other existing evidence, researchers suggest that ancient Mars had all the ingredients necessary to support diverse microbial life on its surface.

Curiosity rover has previously confirmed the presence of a lake in Mars' Gale Crater more than three billion years ago. Recently, the rover has analyzed layers on ancient Mars lake with its onboard instruments and found that lake's water carried more oxygen at different depths, offering conditions favorable for different types of microbes existed simultaneously in the same body.

Stratified bodies of water exhibit sharp chemical differences at different depths. Analysis of Gale's lake also suggests that it shallow water was richer in oxidants than its deeper water. And this phenomenon is also common in lakes on Earth.

“These were very different, co-existing environments in the same lake," said lead author Joel Hurowitz from Stony Brook University. “This type of oxidant stratification is a common feature of lakes on Earth, and now we've found it on Mars. The diversity of environments in this Martian lake would have provided multiple opportunities for different types of microbes to survive, including those that thrive in oxidant-rich conditions, those that thrive in oxidant-poor conditions, and those that inhabit the interface between those settings.”

Whether Mars has ever hosted any life is still unknown, but NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is providing an unprecedented level of detail about an ancient lake on Mar that was favorable to support life. Mars was wet and warmer billions of years ago and its landscape once had water flowing through the terrain. That is total contrast to the dry and cold Mars as we know it today.

“These results give us unprecedented detail in answering questions about ancient environmental conditions on Mars," said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA's JPL. "I'm struck by how these fascinating conclusions on habitability and climate took everything the mission had to offer: a set of sophisticated science instruments, multiple years and miles of exploration, a landing site that retained a record of the ancient environment, and a lot of hard work by the mission team.”

Curiosity rover has been exploring Martian surface since 2012 and is now moving towards higher and younger layers of Mount Sharp. The data collected by Curiosity and other Mars missions will help lead the way for sending humans to Mars in the 2030s.

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