Samples from a crater on Mars indicate life could have been supported there 3.7 billion years ago, tests completed by NASA's Curiosity rover show.
“A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment,” lead scientist Michael Meyer, at NASA's Mars Exploration Program, told Space.com
. “From what we know now, the answer is yes.”
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Curiosity snagged a sample from the area, called Yellowknife Bay, and NASA released a statement Monday explaining the significance
of what was found in the sample.
The sample contained an “abundance” of smectite, which David Vaniman of the Planetary Science Institute said in the release is a clay mineral typically found in lake deposits. “It is commonly called a swelling clay — the kind that sticks to your boot when you step in it. You find biologically rich environments where you find smectites on Earth.”
Caltech scientist John Grotzinger said in the NASA release that the “habitable environment existed later than many people thought there might be one.”
“This has global implications. It's from a time when there were deltas, alluvial fans and other signs of surface water at many places on Mars, but those were considered too young, or too short-lived, to have formed clay minerals,” he said. “The thinking was, if they had clay minerals, those must have washed in from older deposits. Now, we know the clay minerals could be produced later, and that gives us many locations that may have had habitable environments, too.”
Space.com quoted Grotzinger as saying that the environment was apparently so “benign and supportive” of life that if you’d been on Mars when the water was there, you would have been able to drink it.
The first information about Yellowknife Bay was reported by NASA in March, confirming Curiosity’s main mission — that Mars could have supported life.
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