Tuesday, March 12, 2013

NASA Curiosity Finds More Evidence of Water, Probable Life

 Curiosity self-portrait via NASA

I've been following the adventures of the Curiosity on Mars and the latest news is quite intriguing. According to the BBC's science correspondent Jonathan Amos, the Curiosity has found rock with clay materials - something that could only be formed in or near water.

The rover drilled a powdered sample from a mudstone at its exploration site in Gale Crater, a deep impact bowl on Mars' equator. This was delivered to the two big onboard laboratories, Sam and Chemin, for analysis. The rock sample was found to contain 20-30% smectite - a particular group of clay minerals. Their high abundance and the relative lack of salt are strongly suggestive of a fresh-water environment for the mudstone's formation. 

The presence of calcium sulphates, rather than the magnesium or iron sulphates seen in previous rock analyses at other locations on the planet, adds to the evidence that the sampled rock in Gale was deposited in a neutral to mildly alkaline pH environment. Scientists think Curiosity probably drilled into an ancient lakebed. 

The analysis also identified sulphur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon - some of the key chemical elements for life. Additionally, it found compounds in a range of oxidised states, meaning there were electrons moving through the environment. Those could have been co-opted as an energy source by simple life-forms, if they ever existed in Gale.

"What we've learned in the last 20 years of modern microbiology is that very primitive organisms - they can derive energy just by feeding on rocks," explained Prof Grotzinger. "Just like on [a] battery - you hook up the wires and it goes to a lightbulb and the lightbulb turns on. That's kind of what a micro-organism would have done in this environment, if life had ever evolved on Mars and it was present here."

The rover is assembling quite a catalogue of water evidence in the crater. Already, it has seen the remains of an ancient riverbed system, where water once flowed perhaps a metre deep and quite vigorously. The picture that seems to be emerging is one where sediments were transported downhill from the eroding crater rim into a network of streams that then flowed into the lake environment represented by mudstone. (Source)
You gotta love recent scientific discoveries! They keep proving that the mystics, dreamers, conspiracy theorists and weirdos were right about so many things. Bob Frissell, for instance, has been saying Mars was once a habitable planet for decades. I love that real life keeps mashing up "fact" and "fiction." And, yes, I know nothing conclusive has been found yet, but I figure it's only a matter of time.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bah, this is so fascinating! What else is out there in the universe just waiting for us to get it together and go discover it?