The window of opportunity for life to arise on ancient Mars was apparently broader than scientists had thought.
The lake that once filled much of Mars’ huge Gale Crater featured multiple potentially habitable environments segregated by depth, as some water bodies here on Earth do, a new study based on observations by NASA’s Curiosity rover suggests.
“This chemical stratification might’ve provided a sort of menu of options for any microbes that preferred one environment over the other to take advantage of,” study lead author Joel Hurowitz, a geoscientist at Stony Brook University in New York, told Space.com. [Photos: Ancient Mars Lake Could Have Supported Life]
“What we’re learning is that all of the necessary ingredients for life to take hold were present inside this lake in Gale Crater,” Hurowitz added. “For us, that’s a really exciting result.”
The car-size Curiosity rover touched down inside the 96-mile-wide (154 kilometers) Gale Crater in August 2012, on a mission to determine if the region has ever been capable of supporting microbial life.
Curiosity quickly hit pay dirt, finding lots of evidence that Gale harbored a possibly habitable lake-and-stream system in the ancient past. Further observations by the rover have revealed that this system likely lasted from about 3.8 billion years ago to 3.1 billion years ago, though it’s unclear if surface water was present continuously during that stretch. (The lake may have dried out and refilled multiple times, mission scientists have said.)
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