Nasa says life could have existed on Mars
MARS rock sample picked up by the Curiosity rover has found minerals, including hydrogen, carbon and oxygen, that are the building blocks of life, Nasa said today
"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."
The rock sample was drilled from a sedimentary bedrock sample and found to contain clay minerals, sulfate minerals and other chemicals.
Based on the analysis of those chemicals, researchers were able to determine that the water that helped form the rocks were of a relatively neutral pH.
Scientists said the find could represent an incremental step to proving the existence of conditions that could support life on Mars.
The six-wheeled robot, with 10 scientific instruments on board, is the most sophisticated ever sent to another planet.
The rover made a dramatic landing near the Mars equator last August for a two-year mission.
"We have found a habitable environment that is so benign and supportive of life, that probably if this water was around and you had been there, you would have been able to drink it," said John Grotzinger, Curiosity project scientist from the California Institute of Technology.
Scientists intend 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, Nasa said.
Speaking at the same press conference, one of Nasa's top officials John Grunsfeld said the discovery makes him "feel giddy."
He said the new data helps add to the picture of what the red planet may have looked in a previous era, with a possible freshwater lake and a snow-capped Mount Sharp.
- Barney Henderson, Telegraph.co.uk