The latest data from the Curiosity rover on Mars indicates that the planet’s surface could have supported microbial life in the past.
The findings come from chemical analysis of rock drilled from what appears to be a dried up river or lake bed in an area called Yellowknife bay, using x-ray diffraction and gas chromatography.
The analysis showed that the rocks contain clay minerals, particularly ones resulting from the reaction of igneous materials – molten rock pushing up from beneath the planet surface – with water. From the minerals formed, and the presence of calcium sulfate in the sample, scientists can also tell that the water had relatively neutral pH and was not very salty.
The probe also found sulfur compounds in varying oxidation states, as well as some carbon compounds. Finding all of these things together points to an atmosphere in which microbes could have survived. That said, just finding evidence they could have survived doesn’t mean there actually were ever any microbes present.
This is the latest data from Curiosity, which has been exploring the surface of Mars since October last year. After testing its instruments, the rover has sent back a steady stream of data about the atmosphere and surface of the Red Planet.