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Mars May Have Once Supported Life, NASA Says

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This image from NASA’s Curiosity rover shows the first sample of powdered rock extracted by the rover’s drill. The image was taken after the sample was transferred from the drill to the rover’s scoop. In subsequent steps, the sample was sieved, and portions of it delivered to the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument and the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument. (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

(CNN) — Curiosity, humanity’s most powerful rover ever to land on Mars, has made a startling discovery: Conditions that could have supported life once existed there.

“We have found a habitable environment that is so benign, and supportive of life, that probably if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it,” John Grotzinger, Curiosity project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said in a Tuesday news conference.

This discovery is based on the chemical analysis of powder that the rover recovered by drilling a hole in a rock.

The powder from the drilling turned out to have a wealth of chemicals in it, including sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon. These are ingredients for life, scientists said.

Curiosity won’t make its second drill hole until May. Scientists are excited about that because the first sample could have been tainted by material analyzed at a different site on Mars.

The 2-ton rover landed on Mars on August 6 in a series of acrobatic maneuvers dubbed the “seven minutes of terror.” The mission comes with a price tag of $2.5 billion.

 

By Elizabeth Landau

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