NASA's Curiosity rover discovered a Martian crater lake from three-and-a-half years of observations. A new study based on this discovery suggests that the ancient, now non-existent Martian lake may have been the stronghold of various forms of microbes.
Researchers state that environmental conditions in the lake differed from one part to another. Thus, different areas of the lake were conducive to support different forms of microbes. Previous research validated the presence of lakes on the Red Planet over 3 billion years ago in Mars' Gale Crater.
The latest study, however, details the chemical conditions that subsisted in the lake and also uses the Curiosity's payload to understand if the lake was stratified or not.
Ancient Martian Lake Supported Life?
Scientists and researchers are far from confirming whether Mars hosted life. However, they are looking for signs of life that could have existed on the planet. They believe that to find if life pre-existed on any planet, one needs to first rebuild the environment to ascertain whether it was capable of supporting life or not.
Since the time the Curiosity rover landed on Mars' Gale Crater back in 2012, its primary goal was to establish if the planet ever had favorable environmental conditions to support life. For over 1,700 sols or Martian days, NASA's Curiosity rover traveled for more than 9.94 miles from the bottom of the Gale Crater to Mount Sharp. The rover was successful in climbing Mount Sharp, which is located at the crater's center.
During its observations, the Curiosity rover found that there were differences in the chemical, physical, and mineral composition in several areas of Mount Sharp. While some rocks displayed layered proportions of hematite, which is an iron mineral, others showed fine layers of magnetite. These observations led the researchers to consider the possibility if these difference are owing to different environmental conditions.
"These were very different, co-existing environments in the same lake," the research's lead author Joel Hurowitz said.
He also shared that such an "oxidant stratification" is a commonly observed feature in Earth's lakes. Hurowitz believes that the diversity in the lake's environment may have given opportunities to different microbe types to exist in the lake over a period.
"The recognition of redox stratification in the lake in Gale crater adds new detail to our understanding of ancient martian aquatic environments," the researchers noted.
Others Findings Made By Curiosity Rover
Apart from the discovering the chemical environment of the lake, researchers also documented the fluctuations in climate of ancient Mars.
The study's findings were published in online journal Science on Friday, June 2.