Mars Curiosity Rover Samples Reveal Chemical Ingredients May Have Supported Life

By Hilda Scott , Mar 12, 2013 07:07 PM EDT

NASA's Curiosity rover drilled a 2.5-inch hole into a flat Mars rock dubbed "John Klein," located in the Gale Crater. The collected sample of the rock was analyzed and found to contain key elements necessary to support life.

Scientists were proven correct in their hypothesis of the possibility of habitable conditions once existing on Mars. NASA announced Tuesday (March 12) the analyzed results from the Curiosity rover's collections in February. Chemicals found in the sedimentary rock were carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. The data was obtained by Curiosity rover's instruments, Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin).

NASA issued a press release Tuesday (March 12) detailing the findings of the analyzed Mars rock sample. "A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment. From what we know now, the answer is yes," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C.  

Evidence of wet conditions was suspected, since the samples were made up of fine-grained mudstone.

"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. Clay minerals are composed of fresh water and igneous minerals that exist in the sediment.

"We have characterized a very ancient, but strangely new 'gray Mars' where conditions once were favorable for life," said John Grotzinger, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. 

Further investigation is planned on Mars' surface, specifically layers located in Gale Crater's mound called Mount Sharp. Clay and sulfate minerals may lead to additional information about the diversity and duration of the life-supporting conditions.  

"Curiosity is on a mission of discovery and exploration, and as a team we feel there are many more exciting discoveries ahead of us in the months and years to come," said Grotzinger.

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