"Ancient Life At Gale Crater?" --NASA TV to Live-Stream Thursday: 'New Discoveries by the Mars Curiosity Rover'
Whether Martian life has ever existed is still unknown. No compelling evidence for it has been found. When Curiosity landed in Mars' Gale Crater in 2012 the mission's main goal was to determine whether the area ever offered a habitable environment, which has since been confirmed (see 2017 discovery of boron, below).
NASA’s Curiosity rover landed inside Mars’s 96-mile-wide Gale Crater on August 6, 2012, and since then it has been probing the Red Planet’s geology, climate and the question of whether or not it has ever supported microbial life.
Now, the rover has seemingly made a new discovery which will be revealed this Thursday, according to the space agency. NASA has scheduled a live discussion for 2 p.m. ET focusing on “new science results” from the rover, although the nature of what has been found remains to be seen as no details will be made public before then.
The event can be streamed live on NASA’s online TV channel above, hosted by NASA’s assistant director of science for communications, Michelle Thaller, with a panel consisting of:
Paul Mahaffy, director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Jen Eigenbrode, a research scientist at Goddard
Chris Webster, senior research fellow, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Ashwin Vasavada, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist, JPL
You can join in on the discussion via social media using the #askNASA.
NASA reported the discovery of boron. "Because borates may play an important role in making RNA--one of the building blocks of life--finding boron on Mars further opens the possibility that life could have once arisen on the planet," said Patrick Gasda, a postdoctoral researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "Borates are one possible bridge from simple organic molecules to RNA. Without RNA, you have no life. The presence of boron tells us that, if organics were present on Mars, these chemical reactions could have occurred."
The discovery of boron at Mars' Gale Crater gives scientists more clues about whether life could have ever existed on the planet, according to the paper, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
RNA (ribonucleic acid) is a nucleic acid present in all modern life, but scientists have long hypothesized an "RNA World," where the first proto-life was made of individual RNA strands that both contained genetic information and could copy itself. A key ingredient of RNA is a sugar called ribose. But sugars are notoriously unstable; they decompose quickly in water. The ribose would need another element there to stabilize it. That's where boron comes in.
When boron is dissolved in water--becoming borate--it will react with the ribose and stabilize it for long enough to make RNA.
"We detected borates in a crater on Mars that's 3.8 billion years old, younger than the likely formation of life on Earth," said Gasda. "Essentially, this tells us that the conditions from which life could have potentially grown may have existed on ancient Mars, independent from Earth."
The boron found on Mars was discovered in calcium sulfate mineral veins, meaning the boron was present in Mars groundwater, and provides another indication that some of the groundwater in Gale Cater was habitable, ranging between 0-60 degrees Celsius (32-140 degrees Fahrenheit) and with neutral-to-alkaline pH.
The boron was identified by the rover's laser-shooting ChemCam (Chemistry and Camera) instrument, which was developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory in conjunction with the French space agency.
The discovery of boron is only one of several recent findings related to the composition of Martian rocks. Curiosity is climbing a layered Martian mountain and finding chemical evidence of how ancient lakes and wet underground environments changed, billions of years ago, in ways that affected their potential favorability for microbial life.
As the rover has progressed uphill, compositions trend toward more clay and more boron. These and other chemical variations can tell us about conditions under which sediments were initially deposited and about how later groundwater moving through the accumulated layers altered and transported dissolved elements, including boron.
The Daily Galaxy via NASA