Mars Rover ‘Hit Jackpot’ in Search for Alien Life
Written by Andrew Follett
The NASA-launched Mars rover found evidence the Red Planet may once have been suitable for alien life. NASA scientists say the rover “hit a jackpot” of exposed mineral layers that reveal environmental conditions were nearly habitable for millions of years.
“We see all of the properties in place that we really like to associate with habitability,” Dr. John Grotzinger, a geologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena who works with the rover, told Space.com. “There’s nothing extreme here. This is all good for habitability over time.”
Rock layers near the rover seem to have vast amounts of oxidizing hematite, a sign of chemical reactivity which occurs in a more acidic environment. The rocks found by the rover is “acidic, but never super-acidic. It’s totally the kind of environment where an acidophilic organism could enjoy it,” Grotzinger said.
The new study is the latest to determine that Mars could potentially support life.Earlier this month, the rover found numerous organic molecules on Mars in chemically-analyzed rock samples it drilled. Organic molecules were also present on the Martian surface.
NASA scientists aren’t sure where the organic molecules came from or how they managed to survive in the harsh radioactive environment. The rover’s mission was to determine if Mars had the chemical ingredients and suitable environments to support life. Other observations from the rover indicate that Mars had an environment that could have supported life for well over 100 million years.
Scientists at the University of Texas published research in November that said some volcanic areas on Mars could be ideal chemical environments for life to develop and flourish. Lava from volcanoes and ice from glaciers would combine to form a fairly warm environment with access to ice and potentially even liquid water.
Geologists announced in September that they found hydrogen, a critical component necessary to support life, can be produced by earthquakes on Earth. They concluded that the same kind of “Marsquakes” could produce hydrogen on Mars, removing a major barrier to life. The Red Planet’s atmosphere is rich in oxygen, so an ample supply of hydrogen may indicate that water is more common on Mars than generally believed.
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