Curiosity Rover Confirms Martian Air Is Mostly Carbon Dioxide, Not Good For Prospect Of Life On Mars [VIDEO]
That wasn't a surprise to scientists, as it mostly matches what NASA's Viking landers found in the 1970s. The Curiosity rover found that the second-most abundant element of Martian air is nitrogen, which the Viking landers had also reported.
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The biggest difference between the Viking and the Curiosity findings was that the gas argon was about as present as nitrogen. But that's really doesn't matter all that much, according to NASA. Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said the presence of argon is "more or less an interesting observation," but doesn't really affect Mars' habitability, which went away a very long time ago.
About 4 billion years ago, to be exact, is when scientists think Mars went from being almost Earth-like in how hospitable it was to life, into a cold and unfriendly place. Since then, scientists think, Mars' atmosphere really hasn't changed much.
"On Earth, our magnetic field protects us, it shields us from the solar wind particles. Without Earth's magnetic field, we would have no atmosphere and there would be no life on this planet," Chris Webster, manager of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Discovery News. "Everything would be wiped out -- especially when you go back 4 billion years. The solar wind was at least 100 times stronger then than it is today. It was a young sun with a very intense radiation."
Though it's probably been a while since Mars supported life, it's possible that certain microbes could have adapted to the harsh Martian environment.
"The last 2.5 to 3 billion years were probably pretty unfriendly to microbial life," said Mahaffy. "But microbes are pretty adaptive to changing conditions. We don't know yet how they might have adapted to the currently harsh conditions on the surface of Mars."
In 2009, NASA surprised the scientific community by announcing there were three areas of Mars that contained methane, a gas that is almost exclusively created by organic life.
But the Curiosity rover found no significant amounts of methane, and hence no further proof of life on Mars. The Curiosity rover, though, will keep measuring for methane as it scoots around the Martian surface.
This has been an active week for Martian news. Yesterday, NASA scientists said they may have found evidence of an ancient Martian ocean. Evidence from earlier this year indicated that a flowing river may have made its way across the Martian surface.
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