NASA: Primitive Mars could have supported life

Mars was capable of supporting microbial life in the distant past, scientists announced today (March 12).

They reached this conclusion after studying the latest observations from NASA’s Curiosity rover, which just analyzed the first-ever sample collected from the interior of a Red Planet rock.

Here are answers to a few basic questions about Curiosity’s discovery, and what it means about the Red Planet’s past and the rover’s future.

What exactly did Curiosity find?

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Last month, Curiosity drilled 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) into a rock on a Martian outcrop that mission scientists have dubbed “John Klein.” [The Search for Life on Mars (Photo Timeline)]

The rover’s onboard Chemistry & Mineralogy (CheMin) and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments found some of the chemical ingredients for life in the collected powder, including sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon. The mix of compounds also suggests that the area may have contained chemical energy sources for potential Red Planet microbes, researchers said.

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