Was life possible on Mars? NASA’s Curiosity rover is making a new discovery that may help answer the question.
Toulouse – The exact origin of life on our planet is a mystery to science. However, a long-standing theory holds that Earth’s alternation between dry and wet phases caused microbial life to emerge from complex chemical elements. Therefore, the new discovery of NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars is of particular interest to scientists.
The rover has been studying the Red Planet for eleven years and is currently climbing Mount Sharp in Mars’ Gale Crater. There he discovered something that seemed strange to ordinary people: cracks in the dry soil. These cracks form a hexagonal pattern – making them particularly interesting to scientists who know how hexagonal cracks form.
NASA’s Curiosity rover is discovering mud cracks on Mars
When the mud dries, it contracts – T-shaped cracks form. Curiosity has detected such cracks on Mars before, they are an indication that the mud formed and dried again. However, as the clay repeatedly comes into contact with water, the T-shaped cracks soften and eventually transform into a Y-shape—showing the typical hexagonal patterns.
“These special mud cracks form when wet and dry conditions occur frequently – perhaps even seasonally,” explains William Rabin of the Institute for Research in Astrophysics and Planetary Science in Toulouse. Rabin is leading a study of hexagonal patterns on Mars in the journal nature published had become.
Hexagrams on Mars have a special meaning
Hexagonal patterns formed on Mars even when new sediments were brought in by water, like one Communication from NASA. The scientists concluded that alternating wet and dry conditions may have existed over a long period of time. A salt layer on top of the mud cracks has preserved them for billions of years and allows researchers to study them today. Using Curiosity’s Mastcam and ChemCam instruments, the research team found the salt to be between 3.8 and 3.6 billion years old.
Rabin notes, “This is the first concrete evidence that the ancient climate of Mars showed regular Earth-like wet and dry cycles.” “But more importantly, the dry-wet cycles are beneficial to — and possibly essential to — the molecular evolution that could give rise to life.” Water is essential to life, but there has to be some balance—not too much, not too little water.
Patterns on Mars show that dry-wet cycles once existed
According to science, the conditions that can support microbial life are not the same as those that are necessary to favor the chemical reactions that can give rise to life. Dry-wet cycles regulate the concentration of chemicals that enable essential reactions that lead to life.
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This isn’t the first time NASA’s Curiosity rover has made discoveries on Mars that indicate the possibility of microbial life there. “In eleven years, we’ve found ample evidence that microbial life may have existed on ancient Mars. Now, the mission has found evidence of conditions that could also have been conducive to the emergence of life,” says Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Both Curiosity and Perseverance have already detected organic materials on Mars, among other things.
Finding “curiosity” is a stroke of luck for the search
It’s a stroke of luck for scientists: Just because Mars has no moving tectonic plates, billions of years old cracks in mud are still visible — a testament to a very distant past. On Earth, on the other hand, plate tectonics causes similar features to disappear. “We are fortunate to have a planet as close to us as Mars, which still preserves the memory of the natural processes that may have led to the emergence of life,” says Rabin. (unpaid bill)
Machine assistance was used in this editorial article. The article was carefully screened by editor Tanya Banner before it was published.
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