News / Science & Technology

Ancient Mars Lake Could Have Supported Life

The Curiosity rover's view of Yellowknife Bay, where evidence of a once-habitable environment was found. (Courtesy Science/AAAS)
The Curiosity rover's view of Yellowknife Bay, where evidence of a once-habitable environment was found. (Courtesy Science/AAAS)
Mineral-munching microbes could have found a hospitable environment in an ancient Martian lake, according to new research.

Scientists say it’s the best evidence yet of conditions suitable for life on the red planet.

Earlier this year, NASA reported evidence of water on Mars that could have sustained life.

The latest research, published in Science, shows the Mars rover Curiosity has found iron and sulfur minerals in different chemical states at the bottom of an ancient lakebed.

Rock eaters

Those different chemical states show electrons can move around in that environment.

That’s significant because “if you can move electrons around, you’ve basically got food,” said geoscience professor Scott McLennan at Stony Brook University. “In principle, you’d have microbes that could eat the rocks and that’s very common on Earth [in caves and thermal vents]. They’re primitive life forms, but they’re very, very well known and very well understood.”

A string of research papers has suggested there could have been life on Mars, but this is the first time University of Tennessee planetary science professor Hap McSween has been convinced.

“Before, we’ve found evidence of ancient water. We’ve found this or that, various pieces of the puzzle, but never the whole package," McSween said. "And this place really does seem to have the whole package.”

The samples were taken not far from Curiosity’s landing site, in a geological formation known as Yellowknife Bay.

Life on Mars and Earth
 
The area appears to have been a lake more recently than researchers thought - though still nearly 4 billion years ago. 
 
That’s about the time life was emerging on Earth. 
 
“It could be that the two planets had emerging but very simplified life at the same time,” McSween said. “But we’re a long way from figuring out that this interesting lake deposit has any evidence of life.”
 
The rover is not equipped to look for fossil microbes that could answer once and for all the question of whether there was life on Mars. 
 
“Ultimately, what’s going to have to happen is to start the process of collecting samples on Mars [and] getting them ready to return them to Earth,” McSween said. “This certainly would be a prospective place to go and look for samples.”
 
Back to the plan
 
In the meantime, the rover is headed for Mt. Sharp, a 5-kilometer-high formation of layered rock.
 
“It’s like the pages of a book. You just work your way up through the history of Mars as it’s recorded in the sedimentary record,” McSween said.
 
Mt. Sharp is rover mission’s original target. The remarkable discovery of a habitable ancient lake is just a detour.
 

You May Like

At International AIDS Conference One Goal, Many Paths

The 12,000 delegates attending 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne have vastly different visions about how to eradicate disease More

Disasters May Doom Malaysia’s Flag Carrier

Even before loss of two jets loaded with passengers on international flights, company had been operating in red for three years, accumulating deficit of $1.3 billion More

Afghan Presidential Vote Audit Continues Despite Glitches

Process has been marred by walkouts by representatives of two competing candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Agei
X
Elizabeth Lee
July 20, 2014 2:36 AM
Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.
Video

Video Diplomatic Crisis Grows Over MH17 Plane Crash

The Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine is drawing reaction from leaders around the world. With suspicions growing that a surface-to-air missile shot down the aircraft, there are increasing tensions in the international community over who is to blame. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Undocumented Immigrants Face Perilous Journey to US, No Guarantees

Every day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Central America attempt the arduous journey through Mexico and turn themselves over to U.S. border patrol -- with the hope that they will not be turned away. But the dangers they face along the way are many, and as Ramon Taylor reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, their fate rests on more than just the reception they get at the US border.
Video

Video Scientists Create Blackest Material Ever

Of all the black things in the universe only the infamous "black holes" are so black that not even a tiny amount of light can bounce back. But scientists have managed to create material almost as black, and it has enormous potential use. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Fog Collector Transforming Maasai Water Harvesting in Kenya

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle. But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA, on a "fog collector."

AppleAndroid