NASA’s Mars Curiosity may have tasted a mountain, found an Egg Rock, and discovered water on Mars, but the little rover that could have found evidence that Mars once held life in the Gale Crater. The results were recently published in the journal, Science that stated that Mars could have hosted many living organisms. Curiosity landed in the Gale Crater in 2012 and since then has examined the rocks inside and out to find out if the Red Planet ever held life. With its state-of-the-art instruments, the Curiosity found water and the ingredients for life.
The Gale Crater is most likely a dry lake bed on Mars. It is in the Aeolis quadrangle and is about 100 miles in diameter and could be about three to four billion years old. Named after an amateur astronomer, Walter Frederick Gale, from Sydney Australia, it was discovered in the late 19th century. The Aeolis Mons is at the center of the Gale Crater, rising almost 20,000 feet high.
The lead author, Joel Hurowitz, a Stony Brook University geochemist, said to the Los Angeles Times that the discovery on Gale Crater could lead scientists to understand if Mars was “habitable” three and half billion years ago. The water the Curiosity rover found could be the key to an ancient body of water. The rover, on the way to Mount Sharp, drilled into six rocks, pulling samples from each in various environments. Within the samples were many elements including nitrogen, phosphate minerals, and organic carbon compounds, as well as sulfur and iron.
The researchers feel that this is the evidence that provided “compelling evidence” that established a “habitable environment” for life, said the Los Angeles Times. Also within the layered rock was evidence of “heavy material” that was probably deposited by flowing water. The researchers found a strange thing, however, in the shallower portions of the lake, the minerals seem to have been “exposed to more oxygen” while the minerals in the deeper parts were not.
What does this mean? The researchers speculate that different layers of the lake had varying levels of oxygen, which is similar to the lakes on Earth. It allowed the researchers to “connect the dots,” said Ashwin Vasavada, the study’s co-author and the project mission scientist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Hurowitz stated that the lake might have lasted anywhere between “hundreds of thousands of years to 10 million years,” with many different types of species that provided oxygen at the various levels of the lake in Gale Crater. Hurowitz and his team wrote in Science that the change in temperature at Gale Crater was “perhaps driven by global atmospheric escape processes.”
Over the years, Mars progressed from a “colder, drier environment to a warmer, wetter one,” the Los Angeles Times said. The Verge reported that the theory seemed “counterintuitive,” but the theory suggested that what happened on Mars was “more complicated than that.”
The layers of rocks could be a key to studying why Mars dried out over the years. For the time being, Mars Curiosity continues with its mission to study if the planet is “habitable” for future missions and possibly humans. More researcher and samples from the rover need to be examined before confirming Hurowitz’s theory.
By Cheryl Werber
Photo Courtesy NASA