The lake, which has dried up today, was able to provide a home for microorganisms billions of years ago, as researchers led by john grotzinger of the california institute of technology (caltech/pasadena) report in the u.S. Journal "science". Whether anything ever lived in the water, however, is uncertain. Traces of past mars life not found by "curiosity.
The rover had explored a five-meter-deep depression called yellowknife bay in the gale crater and stumbled on an ensemble of fine, medium and coarse sediments of the kind that form in calm water. The measurements prove that the gale crater was home to at least one lake around 3.6 billion years ago, the imperial college london, which was involved in the research, explained in a press release.
In a series of six technical papers, several teams describe the "curiosity" measurements in "science". The lake therefore existed for tens to hundreds of thousands of years. It was calm, consisted of submerged water and had some biological elements such as carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur. In such an environment, for example, microorganisms that gain their energy from the decomposition of rock, so-called chemolithoautotrophs, could have thrived.
"It is an exciting thought that billions of years ago, primordial microbial life could have existed in the calm waters of the lake and converted a rich assortment of elements into energy," co-author sanjeev gupta of the author team emphasized in the release from the london university, but caveated: "it is important to emphasize that we have found no evidence of primordial life on mars. We have discovered that the gale crater at least once in its distant past, billions of years ago, possessed a lake that was probably suitable for microbial life. This is a major positive step in the exploration of mars."Further exploration of the area could possibly provide the key to answering the question of whether life once existed on the red planet.
The german mars researcher walter goetz, who also works with "curiosity" data but was not involved in the present study, added that the research of such clay minerals on mars already has a history of almost ten years. "The local occurrence of clay minerals suggests ph-neutral, watery weathering and thus life-friendly conditions on young mars. However, it is quite obvious that no biosphere has developed that is in any way comparable to the terrestrial one," explained the scientist from the max planck institute for solar system research in katlenburg-lindau, lower saxony.
"The clay minerals are not evenly distributed on mars, but occur only in very specific regions. Yellowknife bay was the first chance to study such an area from close up."Goetz considers it improbable that life ever existed in the primeval lake. "According to a widespread hypothesis, life could have developed on early mars at the interface between the atmosphere and the crust, since early mars was, according to classical doctrine, terrestrial. After that, this supposed life could have migrated into the deep," goetz explained. "The only problem is that we find no evidence of such life on the surface, in particular there is a conspicuous lack of organic molecules. Whether they are not there, or their concentration is below the sensitivity limit of the instruments, we cannot say."
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