Clay on Mars Finding Hints at Once Supporting Life

clay on Mars
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity rover has confirmed the existence of clay on Mars, suggesting that there was once water on the Red Planet. In August 2012, Curiosity landed on the surface of Mars with one of its stated objectives to look for environmental conditions that may once been favourable for microbial life. This includes an investigation into signs of water, which is essential for life.

Clay Usually Cannot Form Without Water

Looking for clay on Mars was one of Curiosity‘s primary objectives. Evidence of clay on Mars was subsequently found at the rocky ridge known as Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons), which is 5.5 km (18,000 ft) high and forms the central peak within Gale crater. In fact, the evidence suggests that the Gale crater once contained an abundance of water, and that over time water and sediment at the bottom of the lake interacted to form clay.

The lower level of the Gale crater may contains clay, but levels higher up contain sulfur, with even some evidence of oxygen-bearing minerals higher up. According to scientists, the sulfur might suggest layers where water dried out, or where water became more acidic. Commenting on the recent discovery, Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of JPL stated:

“Each layer of this mountain is a puzzle piece. They each hold clues to a different era in Martian history.”

Water On Mars Essential For Life

Mars is a barren planet with very thin air that we could never breathe. However, there are signs that liquid water likely existed on the surface of Mars a long time ago. We can even see ice caps at the north and south poles, although these are mostly composed of carbon dioxide ice, with perhaps some water.

Wherever there is water on Earth, we can also find life. Therefore, NASA‘s Mars Exploration Program places a high emphasis on “Following the Water.” Even if we are not able to find life on Mars, if there is water on the planet then this could then prepare the groundwork for humans inhabiting Mars someday.

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