Mars could once have supported microbial life, an analysis of rock collected by the Curiosity rover has shown, NASA said on Tuesday.
A sample drilled out of a Martian rock by the rover in early February shows sulphur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon, considered key ingredients for life, the US space agency announced.
“A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars exploration programme.
“From what we know now, the answer is yes.” It remains unclear when Mars may have been habitable or whether microbial life ever existed.
The 900-kilogramme rover landed in Mars’ Gale crater in a low-lying area, which scientists targeted in part because water appeared to have flowed there in the ancient past.
Curiosity is to make its way in coming months to a mountain that rises above the surface in the crater and includes layers of rock strata that could document Mars’ geological history.
The rover earlier showed that a stream with fast-moving water once flowed on Mars in the same area, where the elements have been discovered. Scientists had believed from past exploration that the Red Planet had once been home to vast amounts of water.