A scientist who is part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission recently concluded that there’s a possibility that the Mars Gale Crater, the main search region of the Curiosity rover, could have harbored life billions of years ago. 

According to a report from Slash Gear, geosciences professor Christopher House said that the Gale Crater appears to be a lake environment. House’s team discovered some fine layers of mudstone inside the crater and concluded that water could have existed there for many years. However, as time changed, the lake eventually filled with sediment and water disappeared forming stones. 

When the stone eroded, the crater was eventually filled with sand. The scientist noted, however, that despite being covered by sand there are fractures of rocks that are filled with sulfate. This could have meant that water still ran through the rocks even when the lake dried up. 

What’s interesting is that amid all these, sulfur gases from the sulfate and sulfide minerals formed, which indicates that the environment may have been suitable to support life in the past. House shared that they will be able to gather more evidence as the Curiosity rover moves along the region and takes a record of rocks it encounters. 

NASA scientists have been working doubly hard trying to find any evidence of life on the Red Planet. Recently, the rover Curiosity was able to measure unusual amounts of methane gas in the Martian atmosphere. Back here on Earth, methane often signals the existence of living microbes.

The initial report from The New York Times shows that the methane measurements are 21 part per billion, three times the time when the methane gas spiked in 2013. However, as fast as it spiked, the methane gas also crashed making scientists believe that it was a fluke. 

Based on one report, an expert on planetary climates in the solar system and head of the infrared spectroscopy lab at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), explained that the methane spike could be the NASA rover itself. The theory came from Alexander Rodin, who worked on Mars Express and ExoMars. Rodin shared that the gas may have been a result of “equipment artifact.” 

Mars rock formation NASA's Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, on July 10, 2019, Sol 2462 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission, at 17:00:31 UTC. When this image was obtained, the focus motor count position was 13531. This number indicates the internal position of the MAHLI lens at the time the image was acquired. This count also tells whether the dust cover was open or closed. Values between 0 and 6000 mean the dust cover was closed; values between 12500 and 16000 occur when the cover is open. For close-up images, the motor count can in some cases be used to estimate the distance between the MAHLI lens and target. For example, in-focus images obtained with the dust cover open for which the lens was 2.5 cm from the target have a motor count near 15270. If the lens is 5 cm from the target, the motor count is near 14360; if 7 cm, 13980; 10 cm, 13635; 15 cm, 13325; 20 cm, 13155; 25 cm, 13050; 30 cm, 12970. These correspond to image scales, in micrometers per pixel, of about 16, 25, 32, 42, 60, 77, 95, and 113. Most images acquired by MAHLI in daylight use the sun as an illumination source. However, in some cases, MAHLI's two groups of white light LEDs and one group of longwave ultraviolet (UV) LEDs might be used to illuminate targets. When Curiosity acquired this image, the group 1 white light LEDs were off, the group 2 white light LEDs were off, and the ultraviolet (UV) LEDS were off. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS