A Martian rock sample tested by Curiosity, the NASA rover that landed on the planet in August, contains clay minerals that suggest ancient Mars may have supported living microbes, the U.S. space agency said.
The Rover identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon — some of the key ingredients for life — in powder drilled last month out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said today in a statement. The sample was collected at a site a few hundred yards away from where the rover found evidence in September of an ancient stream bed.
“A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment,” Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, said in the statement. “From what we know now, the answer is yes.”
The bedrock where Curiosity drilled lies in a network of channels descending from the rim of so-called Gale Crater. The hole drilled by the rover, the first ever by a robot probe, measured 0.63 inches (1.6 centimeters) wide and 2.5 inches deep. An additional drilled sample will be used to confirm the results, NASA said.
Curiosity arrived on Mars in August after a 352 million- mile journey and a subsequent plunge through the planet’s atmosphere that was dubbed “7 Minutes of Terror.” Scientists behind the $2.5 billion mission are trying to determine if Mars once had an environment capable of sustaining life.
Starting in 1976, Viking landers sent by NASA to Mars found geological features such as river valleys, grooves carved into rock and stream networks that typically form from large amounts of water and suggested that rain may have once fallen there.
The Spirit and Opportunity rovers that preceded Curiosity have demonstrated water flowed on the surface and soaked the ground. Spirit and Opportunity also measured minerals in rocks and soils.
Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Nov. 26, 2011.
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