NASA’s Curiosity rover has analyzed Martian soil for the first time and has found some organic chemicals essential to support life.
On Monday, NASA announced the finding of the robot’s onboard chemical laboratory, which had sampled a scoop of dirt from the surface of the planet Mars.
The sample hinted at the existence of water and a mix of chemicals on Mars; however, scientists say a complex carbon-based molecule is essential for life.
The findings verify the results from NASA’s previous spacecraft, the Phoenix Lander, which in 2008 also found water, sulfur, and the highly reactive salt called perchlorate.
Mission scientist Paul Mahaffy was not surprised by Curiosity’s findings. Mahaffy, who is in charge of the chemistry experiments at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said the sample had “been exposed to the harsh Martian environment” and radiation from space that destroys carbon evidence.
Scientists say the $2.5 million robot’s upcoming exploration of Mount Sharp will be the best chance of finding complex carbon.
Space pictures of the three-mile high mountain, which is slightly smaller than Earth’s third highest peak, show layers at the base.
“The ancient layered terrain at the base” has a high potential for carbon samples, University of Arizona senior research scientist Peter Smith said. However, any promising samples from that region will have to wait until early next year.
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