Life on Mars? Curiosity reaching crater with potential for past life

Gale Crater - Mars

NASA’s Curiosity rover is making its way across Gale Crater on Mars, and now it’s about hit the spot with one of the highest potentials to have once harbored life.

Curiosity has traveled over nine miles since arriving on Mars, and it is now ready to ascend Mount Sharp, the central peak of Gale Crater. As it climbs the peak it will take samples every 82 feet as it explores younger and younger layers of rock sentiment. Mission team member John Grotzinger, a geologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said of the new drilling location,”We see all of the properties in place that we really like to associate with habitability. There’s nothing extreme here. This is all good for habitability over time.”

Gale Crater was chosen as the destination of Curiosity long before the rover landed on Mars due to the possibility for water to have once existed there. Due to the low ground level, scientists believe water once pooled there and may have seeped underground to form groundwater, allowing life to persist long after the surface water vanished.

Where there’s boron, there’s water

Adding to the evidence water once existed at this location was the discovery of the element boron. Typically, the element is found on Earth in arid sites with a history of evaporated water such as Death Valley National Park in California. “We are seeing chemical complexity indicating a long, interactive history with the water,” said Grotzinger. “The more complicated the chemistry is, the better it is for habitability. The boron, hematite and clay minerals underline the mobility of elements and electrons, and that is good for life.”

As Curiosity continues to sample, the form of boron will need to be identified as it will help determine what the temperature of the water could have been. If it is similar to what is found on earth, that would place it in a range from 32 to 140 degree Fahrenheit (0 to 60 Celsius) and a neutral-to-alkaline pH.

To date, no forms of life have been found on Mars, but scientists continue to investigate as signs still point to the planet having once hosted surface water. While no one thinks there was ever intelligent life on Mars, the hope still exists to some day to find evidence of microbial organisms.

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