The Gale Crater could have been inhabited for at least a million years in the distant past.
An international team of astronomers studied clay samples found in the Martian Gale Crater and found genuine “hints” that Mars was once habitable. In their work, the authors write that at least some regions of the Red Planet could have been inhabited for many thousands or even millions of years.
The Curiosity rover found an important habitability marker on Mars but was the planet ever really habitable?
1. Astronomers came to the conclusion that Mars may have really been habitable after analyzing clay samples taken in 2016 by the Curiosity rover in Gale Crater.
2. Previous studies have proven that in ancient times this crater was a liquid lake, possibly with stable conditions favorable for life.
3. The Martian soil samples were taken by Curiosity using an airborne drill. As part of the new study, scientists analyzed them using X-rays, using other onboard instruments of the rover.
4. As a result, they revealed the presence in the soil of a clay mineral associated with the so-called glauconite clays. According to the researchers, this indicates “the period of habitability in the past of the crater.”
5. According to lead author Elisabeth Losa-Adams of the Spanish University of Vigo, the conditions for the formation of these minerals would have been enough for the presence of life.
6. Glauconite clays are a marker of habitability, but not evidence of the existence of life itself. Nevertheless, scientists called the presence of such mineral remains a promising sign.
7. The very presence of such clays on Mars suggests that stable conditions suitable for life may have existed in Gale Crater for perhaps a million years.
8. Previous calculations showed that the lake in this crater could have formed about 3.5 billion years ago when the atmosphere of the Red Planet was denser and able to hold liquid water on its surface.
9. It has existed for about 10 million years based on previous calculations. Scientists have not yet found evidence that this lake had suitable living conditions, such as mild temperatures and neutral acidity. However, new research shows that the likelihood of this is quite high.
10. If subsequent research confirms the current discovery, it would be the breakthrough of the century or perhaps, even the largest since the start of space exploration. And if life existed in the Gale Crater which is an ancient lake, it would ultimately mean that life could have existed in numerous other locations on Mars.
Moreover, if the Red Planet ever had the conditions to support even the simplest lifeforms, it could also mean that Mars may be habitable even today, perhaps around the poles where ice still exists.
In a recent discovery, another team of astronomers found signs that there may as well be incredible amounts of underground water under the South Pole. If you missed this article, you can read it here.
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• Clarke, A. (2021, June 29). Clay Minerals in Gale Crater Show Say Mars Once Habitable. Science Times.
• Liberatore, S. (2021, June 28). Clay minerals collected on Mars suggests it may have been habitable for up to a million of years. Daily Mail Online.
• Losa-Adams, E., Gil-Lozano, C., Fairén, A. G., Bishop, J. L., Rampe, E. B., & Gago-Duport, L. (2021, June 28). Long-lasting habitable periods in Gale crater constrained by glauconitic clays. Nature News.
• O’Callaghan, J. (2021, June 28). Clays found in Martian crater hint that the planet was once habitable. New Scientist.