Curiosity, the biggest, baddest Mars rover has reported some shocking news back to NASA.
Mars rover Curiosity has made a startling discovery: there was a time when Mars could have sustained life.
That is right. A long time ago, the conditions on the red planet were just right and probably supported living things.
"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 on the planet, you would have been able to drink it," said John Grotzinger a Curiosity project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena at a news conference on Tuesday.
This amazing claim is based on the chemical analysis of a sample taken by the rover. Curiosity drilled a hole into a rock to recover the sample. This also marked the first time a Earth-made robot had drilled on another planet.
The rock powder contained a surprising number of chemicals including sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon. Scientists say these are ingredients for life.
"What do we mean by habitability? The key thing here is an environment that a microbe could have lived in and maybe even prospered in," said Grotzinger.
Another researcher, David Blake, added that based on the sample they received, organic material could have been preserved somewhere else on the planet.
The sample had between 20% to 30% of a type of clay called smectite, which forms in the presence of water, Blake said.
The rock that Curiosity found contains calcium sulfate and seems to have been in water with a neutral pH.
Life on Mars could have taken the form of a microorganism that used the minerals as an energy source, according the the NASA scientists.
"This is probably the only definitely habitable environment that we've described and recorded," said Paul Mahaffy, principal investigator for Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars investigation at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.