Evidence of a habitable environment discovered by Nasa's Curiosity rover
The question of whether there has ever been life on Mars has taken one step closer to being answered.
Data from a sample of sedimentary rock from the Gale Crater, on the Red Planet, has revealed evidence of oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, sulphur, phosphorous and carbon - some of the key chemical ingredients for supporting living microbes.
Nasa's Curiosity rover also uncovered clay at Yellowknife Bay, which could only have been formed in water - a vital component of life.
Other chemicals found suggest the soil was neutral or mildly alkaline, making the environment suitable for microbes to survive.
“A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment,” said Michael Meyer, a lead scientist on Nasa's Mars Exploration Program.
“From what we know now, the answer is yes.”
The Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) landed on August 5 and was tasked with answering the question of whether the Red Planet ever had an environment suitable for microbial life – which it seems to have answered.
The $2.5billion project was assisted by scientists from the University of Leicester, who worked at the mission headquarters in Pasadena, California, last year.
The Curiosity announced the discovery on Twitter last night:
I was sent to Mars to find evidence of past habitable environments. Achievement unlocked! [info & images] go.nasa.gov/12MeiIS
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) March 12, 2013