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NASA MSL

PASADENA, Calif. -- An analysis of a rock sample collected by NASA's Curiosity rover shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.

Scientists identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon -- some of the key chemical ingredients for life -- in the powder Curiosity drilled out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater on the Red Planet last month.

"A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "From what we know now, the answer is yes."

Curiosity has been at something of a standstill for a couple weeks now, following an issue with it's flash memory in 'Computer A': NASA builds things like MSL with redundant computers and has simply flipped A to B and it has finally provided analysis of the rock drilling it did a couple weeks ago

While Mars has been and will likely remain the "Red Planet" it's true color, inside is grey.

In short, this comes from a long history of being wet and having all the right 'stuff' available:

Clues to this habitable environment come from data returned by the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instruments. The data indicate the Yellowknife Bay area the rover is exploring was the end of an ancient river system or an intermittently wet lake bed that could have provided chemical energy and other favorable conditions for microbes. The rock is made up of a fine-grained mudstone containing clay minerals, sulfate minerals and other chemicals. This ancient wet environment, unlike some others on Mars, was not harshly oxidizing, acidic or extremely salty.

***

"Clay minerals make up at least 20 percent of the composition of this sample," said David Blake, principal investigator for the CheMin instrument at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

These clay minerals are a product of the reaction of relatively fresh water with igneous minerals, such as olivine, also present in the sediment. The reaction could have taken place within the sedimentary deposit, during transport of the sediment, or in the source region of the sediment. The presence of calcium sulfate along with the clay suggests the soil is neutral or mildly alkaline.

Apparently the grey color is related directly to the probability and possibility of life,however microbial it may have been, to have been supported in Yellowknife Bay.Curiosity is scheduled to hang around Yellowknife Bay for a couple more weeks than begin the trek to the base of Mt Sharp and the numerous stacked/layered rocks available at the base.

So yeah, it seems Mars may have easily supported life-sustaining chemicals and energy.

Stay tuned!

Originally posted to Toking Points Memo on Wed Mar 13, 2013 at 05:31 AM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech and Kossacks on Mars.

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