News / Science & Technology

Mars Lake Possibly Supported Microbial Life

Curiosity's drill sites at Yellowknife Bay inside Mar's Gale Crater (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
Curiosity's drill sites at Yellowknife Bay inside Mar's Gale Crater (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
VOA News
NASA’s Mars Science LaboratoryCuriosity Rover – was sent to Mars some 16 months ago with a major objective of finding evidence of a past environment that would be well suited to supporting microbial life.

Today, a team of mission researchers, writing in a series of papers published in the journal Science, said that they found evidence of what was once an ancient freshwater lake on Mars that might have been capable of supporting life.

The findings were also announced this morning by members of the research team who addressed the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

The researchers studied a set of sedimentary rock outcrops that were found in an area on the floor of Gale Crater called Yellowknife Bay, near the Mars equator.

These sedimentary rocks that probably formed from ancient Martian mud or clay have suggested to researchers that there was at least one lake that welled up with what could have been drinkable water inside of Gale Crater some 3.6 million years ago,
and that the lake could have lasted for tens or even hundreds of thousands of years.

“Shortly after we landed, Curiosity found evidence that liquid water had flowed across the surface long ago in Gale crater,” said Jim Bell, from Arizona State University and an author of four of the papers. “These new results, however, come from the first drilling activities ever performed on Mars, and they show that in addition to surface water, there was likely an active groundwater system in Gale crater that significantly weathered ancient rocks and minerals.”

The mudstones analyzed by the research team are normally formed in calm conditions and produced by very fine sediment grains settling on each other layer-by-layer, in still water.

The team’s analysis of Yellowknife Bay's clay-rich lakebed habitat showed that a calm and fresh water lake that contained basic but crucial biological elements such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur existed at least once inside the Gale Crater.

According to the team, a lake like the one they think once flowed on Mars could have provided perfect conditions for simple bacterial life such as chemolithoautotrophs, which are rock-eating microbes that live on and derive their energy from mineral compounds.

The researchers pointed out that they did not find signs of ancient life itself on Mars.

"It is exciting to think that billions of years ago, ancient microbial life may have existed in the lake's calm waters, converting a rich array of elements into energy. The next phase of the mission, where we will be exploring more rocky outcrops on the crater's surface, could hold the key to whether life did exist on the red planet,” said another of the paper’s co-authors, Sanjeev Gupta from Imperial College London, who is also a member of the MSL mission team.

The researchers will continue to use the Mars roving science laboratory to continue exploring Gale Crater for even more evidence of ancient lakes or other habitable environments.

You May Like

Video Obama to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President says US will take leadership role for a global response to deadly Ebola virus that is ravaging West Africa More

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
X
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid