|This set of images compares rocks seen by NASA's Opportunity rover and Curiosity rover at two different parts of Mars. On the left is "Wopmay" rock, in Endurance Crater, Meridiani Planum, as studied by the Opportunity rover. On the right are the rocks of the "Sheepbed" unit in Yellowknife Bay, in Gale Crater, as seen by Curiosity. (Photo/NASA)|
WASHINGTON, March 12 (Xinhua) -- An analysis of a rock sample collected by NASA's Curiosity rover shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes, U.S. space agency NASA said Tuesday.
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. "From what we know now, the answer is yes."
Clues to this habitable environment come from data returned by the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars, and Chemistry and Mineralogy 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 grain 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.
Scientists plan to work with Curiosity in the Yellowknife Bay area for many more weeks before beginning a long drive to Gale Crater's central mound, Mount Sharp. Investigating the stack of layers exposed on Mount Sharp, where clay minerals and sulfate minerals have been identified from orbit, may add information about the duration and diversity of habitable conditions.
Curiosity, loaded with the most-sophisticated instruments ever used to explore another world, touched down on the Red Planet on Aug. 6 last year. It will use its 10 instruments to investigate whether conditions have been favorable for microbial life and for preserving clues in the rocks about possible past life.