NASA Curiosity Finds Water Evidence: Does Mars Contain Life?

By Amir Khan on September 28, 2012 9:40 AM EDT

Curiosity
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has discovered the most recent evidence that water once existed on Mars. (Photo: Creative Commons)

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has discovered the most recent evidence that water once existed on Mars. NASA scientists announced on Thursday that the rover discovered what appears to be an old streambed -- evidence that the red planet was once wetter and warmer than it is now.

The rover found a rocky outcrop with large, rounded stones, NASA scientists announced, indicating that water had flowed fat and deep in the area -- perhaps hip deep -- billions of years ago.

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"This is the first time we're actually seeing water-transported gravel on Mars," Curiosity co-investigator William Dietrich, of the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement.

The findings didn't exactly surprise the researchers, who purposefully sent the rover to study the area after orbital photos showed evidence of past water.

"This rock is made up of rounded gravels in a matrix that's very sand rich," Rebecca Williams, with the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, AZ, said, according to CBS News. "And these attributes are consistent with a common sedimentary rock type called a conglomerate. ... Over time, erosion is working on that rock face and liberating some of the gravels and they're falling down and accumulating in a pile at the base of that outcrop."

If water existed (or exists) on Mars, it bodes well for the planet's potential habitability. On Earth, life thrives nearly anywhere water is found, and the same could be true on Mars.

"The question about habitability goes just beyond the simple observation of water on Mars to recreating the environments in greater detail, with an understanding of the chemistry that was going on at that time, to ask if this is the kind of place that micro-organisms could've lived," Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger told Space.com. "That's still to be determined, and that's the research the team is working on."

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