Since 2012, the Curiosity rover has been exploring Gale Crater on the planet Mars. With five years of data now collected, scientists at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration strongly believe the crater once held water. Even more astonishing, they believe the crater was once a habitable environment for life.
The announcement is based on rocks collected from the lowermost layers of Mount Sharp in the crater.
“These layers were deposited about 3.5 billion years ago, coinciding with a time on Earth when life was beginning to take hold,” says NASA’s Elizabeth Rampe. “We think early Mars may have been similar to early Earth, and so these environments might have been habitable.” (NASA)
In one recent study, NASA scientists analyzed samples of mudstone from 14 different sites in Gale Crater. (Mudstone is a fine-grained sedimentary rock originally formed from clay or mud.) They detected trace gases including water, carbon dioxide, oxygen, hydrogen, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen chloride and nitric oxide. They also detected organic fragments.
Water was the most abundant volatile released from all mudstone samples. NASA’s analytical equipment included an Agilent Inert XL GC Mass Selective Detector.
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