by Douglas Black, ENERSPEC March 13, 2013
This week there has been a lot of buzz in the blogosphere and on newsfeeds about life on Mars. Let’s be perfectly clear; no, our Man on Mars did not make first contact.
Curiosity did, however, analyze a bit of sediment drilled from a rock nicknamed John Klein in what appears to be a dry creek bed and found tantalizing evidence suggesting life. The Martian Rover has the onboard ability to conduct a battery of tests.
Analysis showed the material was found to include Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Sulphur, all necessary for life. Rounding out the possible footprints of organisms long gone were Nitrogen and Phosphorus, also found in the same testing sample.
It’s been a bit more than seven months since Curiosity touched down at Gale crater, an area that was identified as a potentially habitable environment based on data from satellites orbiting the planet. Almost immediately, the rover uncovered evidence that the place was an ancient riverbed, with a long and complex history of flowing water.
A second round of drilling is scheduled for May of this year to compare and confirm these findings, as NASA has some concern over cross contamination from previous testing and analysis by Curiosity since its August 2012 landing.
In recent weeks, Curiosity has analyzed air samples and found trace amounts of oxygen, as well as nitrogen, argon, and high levels of CO2 which is known to contribute to the greenhouse gas affect on Earth.
“We have found a habitable environment that is so supportive of life that if water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it”’ said John Grotzinger, Curiosity project scientist for the mission in a Tuesday news conference.
Grotzinger, who is based at Caltech in Pasadena, went on to say, “The key thing here is this is an environment that a microbe could have lived in and even prospered in”.
Estimates are that water flowed on Mars 3 million years ago, adding a real possibility that microbial life appeared on the red planet before appearing on Earth.
A popular theory suggests that comets from beyond our solar system bombarding Mars, Earth and even the moons of Saturn carried the building blocks of life to our lifeless system millions of years ago.
Previous testing at other locations on the planet by probes Spirit and Opportunity found clay minerals on the surface called jarosites that would have formed in the presence of acidic or highly salty water.
A team of scientists at Imperial College London recently reported that methane levels in the atmosphere are higher than can be explained simply from meteoric activity, suggesting organic activity below ground that can release methane as a byproduct of life.
When Curiosity finishes with testing and photography at its current location in the Yellowknife Bay Area near Gale Crater, our Man on Mars will have a new assignment a few miles away at the original target area of Gale Crater, where NASA officials suspect signs of life.
About Douglas Black
Douglas Black is a photojournalist and
green technologies analyst out of Chicago,
and is currently Managing Producer for
Earlier Douglas promoted greentech in Detroit as
Senior Marketing Strategist and Architect.
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