As NASA's Mars Curiosity rover treks through the arid surface of the Red Planet to find evidence that life had once existed on Mars, researchers on Earth found what could potentially be proof of Martian life.

In a new study published in the Aug. 7 issue of the journal Astrobiology, Elias Chatzitheodoridis from the School of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering of the National Technical University of Athens in Greece, teamed up with his colleague Ian Lyon from the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences at the University of Manchester in the UK to conduct further investigation on an unusual feature he found implanted deep within a Martian meteorite he was examining.

Known as the Nakhla, the famous Martian meteorite fell in Egypt in 1911 and is believed to be 1.3 billion years old. It also is the first meteorite to suggest signs of aqueous processes on Mars. For the research, Sarah Haigh from the School of Materials at the University of Manchester, imaged the egg-shaped structure using sophisticated and high-resolution imaging technology to investigate its origins.

Lyon described the iron-rich clay structure which contains various minerals as something that resembles a fossilized biological cell from the Earth, only that it is without a doubt from Mars. The researchers also said that the cell-like structure once held water that had been heated possibly because of impact with an asteroid.

"A conspicuous biomorphic ovoid structure has been discovered in the Nakhla martian meteorite, made of nanocrystalline iron-rich saponitic clay and amorphous material," the researchers wrote. "Although compelling evidence for a biotic origin is lacking, it is evident that the martian subsurface contains niche environments where life could develop."

The findings are considered significant because these provide evidence that beneath its surface, the Red Planet has all the conditions needed for life to have formed and evolved, as well as suggest that large asteroids may have once hit the planet and produced hydrothermal fields that could have supported life on Mars if life had indeed existed there.

"We have been able to show the setting is there to provide life. It's not too cold, it's not too harsh," Lyon said. "Life as we know it, in the form of bacteria, for example, could be there, although we haven't found it yet. It's about piecing together the case for life on Mars -- it may have existed and in some form could exist still."

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