New findings from Curiosity hint ancient Mars lake ‘favourable for different microbial life’

Mudstone lakebed sedimentary deposits seen by the Curiosity rover in Gale crater. The latest findings show that the lake in the crater was stratified and could have supported a wide variety of microorganisms. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Was Mars ever habitable? Did life ever actually exist there? Those are two of the biggest questions for planetary scientists and slowly but surely, we are getting closer to answering them. Well, the first one has been, thanks to the numerous orbiters, landers and rovers which have been sent to the Red Planet over the past few decades. Mars was indeed much more habitable than it is now, in the distant past, although we still don’t know if it was actually inhabited, two different things. Much of the data confirming past habitability has come from the Curiosity rover, which has been exploring an ancient lakebed in Gale crater, and now new findings suggest that this lake offered multiple types of microbe-friendly environments simultaneously. This is good news for the possibility that some form of life, even if just microscopic, did once exist there or perhaps even still does.

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Curiosity rover confirms ancient lake(s) in Gale crater on Mars

Sedimentary strata at the base of Mount Sharp as seen at the Kimberly location. The strata in the foreground dip toward Mount Sharp, providing evidence of the former lake-filled depression that used to exist before most of the mountain formed. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Sedimentary strata at the base of Mount Sharp as seen at the Kimberly location. The strata in the foreground dip toward Mount Sharp, providing evidence of the former lake-filled depression that used to exist before most of the mountain formed. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Last week there was the exciting news that Mars still has flows of briny water occurring now, and this week there is more water-related news: additional findings from the Curiosity rover that the huge Gale crater was once a lake or series of lakes a long time ago. Curiosity had already found evidence that there used to be shallow lakes and streams in this area, but the new data confirms this and suggests that the lake(s) once filled Gale crater and were long-lasting, explaining the formation of Mount Sharp in the middle of the crater and also providing a potentially habitable environment for life.

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Curiosity finds first evidence for possible ‘continental crust’ on Mars

View of an igneous clast named Harrison which is embedded in a conglomerate rock in Gale crater, and features elongated light-toned feldspar crystals. This mosaic is a combination of an image from Mastcam with higher-resolution images from ChemCam’s Remote Micro-Imager. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/IRAP/U. Nantes/IAS/MSSS
View of an igneous clast named Harrison which is embedded in a conglomerate rock in Gale crater, and features elongated light-toned feldspar crystals. This mosaic is a combination of an image from Mastcam with higher-resolution images from ChemCam’s Remote Micro-Imager. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/IRAP/U. Nantes/IAS/MSSS

The Curiosity rover, still roaming in Gale crater, has discovered the first evidence for a potential ancient “continental crust” on Mars, which would be a very significant finding regarding Mars’ early history and to what degree it may have paralleled Earth’s.

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This Mars rock has teeth

Part of the rock outcrop called Cooperstown. Interesting pointed protrusions can be seen. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Part of the rock outcrop called Cooperstown. Interesting pointed protrusions can be seen in this Mastcam image from sol 440. Click image for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

As the Curiosity rover currently inspects a rock outcrop called Cooperstown, this rock seems to be baring its teeth. Some interesting pointed protrusions can be seen near the middle and lower right of the image. Below is a closeup of one of these teeth-like protrusions. Fossilized Martian shark teeth? No, probably not, but they are an intriguing feature for sure.

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