Basic Astronomy

Curiosity rover of NASA discovered life friendly ancient fresh water lake in Mars

10 December 2013: The curiosity rover of NASA found fresh evidence of ancient fresh water lake on Mars. The rover also discovered that this ancient Martian lake had the perfect chemical ingredients to sustain microbial life form about 3.7 billion years ago. This microbial life form can sustained in Mars for long period of time and these life friendly habitable conditions could have persisted on Mars until a more recent epoch than previously thought.

Curiosity
(Image Credit: NASA)

Recently scientists have developed a novel technique which allows Curiosity to more accurately measure age of rocks on Mars instead of predicting time from a guess based on crater count.

The Curiosity team revealed that they are planing to investigate natural Martian erosion processes to direct the rover to spots on Martian surface with a higher probability of holding preserved evidence for the building blocks of ancient life - if it ever existed.

Study shows the Yellowknife Bay area inside the Gale Crater landing site, explored earlier this year by Curiosity, is an ancient fresh water lake. The lake probably existed for periods spanning millions to tens of millions of years. The lake was eventually evaporated completely after Mars lost its thick atmosphere.

The lake may have existed until as recently as 3.7 Billion years ago, much later than scientists previously believed - this means that life had a longer and better chance of gaining a foothold on Mars before it was transformed into its current deadly cold and arid state.

For the first time in history, earlier this year, Curiosity drilled two sedimentary Martian mud stone rock outcrops at Yellowknife Bay known as "Cumberland" and "John Klein".

Curiosity's miniaturized chemistry labs - SAM and CheMin found presence of significant levels of phyllosilicate clay minerals from the powdered samples deposited from the drill. These kind of clay minerals form in neutral pH water which is drinkable and supportive to the creation of life.

The rover has detected key elements required for life including carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulphur.

Now the curiosity team is shifting the missions focus to search for organic molecules, which is the building blocks of all life, from searching for habitable environments. The team believes that they have found a way to increase the chance of finding organics molecules preserved in the Martian sedimentary rock layers.

Curiosity Principal Investigator John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology, explained at an AGU press conference, "Really what we're doing is turning the corner from a mission that is dedicated to the search for habitable environments to a mission that is now dedicated to the search for that subset of habitable environments which also preserves organic carbon.... That’s the step we need to take as we explore for evidence of life on Mars". Grotzinger said the ancient lake at Yellowknife Bay was probably about 30 miles long and 3 miles wide.

Next Curiosity will drive along a 6 mile path to the base of Mount Sharp which is the primary mission destination. Curiosity is expected to reach Mount Sharp around Spring 2014.

Curiosity team published these recent results in prestigious journal Science (9th Dec 2013 issue).











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