Friday, March 15, 2013

Rocks from the Bottom of a Martian Lake

Here's the data that shows what was in the rock that Curiosity dug up from Mars (after the rock was blasted with heat into a gas and then molecules of the gas "weighed" with mass spectrometry, that is).

The most amazing part is all the water it implies. It's a perfect clay that was probably deposited at the bottom of an ancient lake, meaning, holy cow, there was a whole LAKE on Mars. Since water is the most probable sine qua non for life, then this is exciting news for possible Martian microbes. Assuming existence is an exciting thing for microbes.

With all the evidence for water, Mars has just become a fascinating test case of how easy it is for simple life to emerge. If it didn't happen there, then it must be very hard. Looks like Mars was playing with a rather full deck, chemically speaking. Was it enough? Was the game rigged to win or lose? The question is still open, and it's the open questions that keep us moving forward.

The other things I note include that the red oxidized iron is not present below the surface, so most of Mars is gray, sulfur-rich rock without much oxygen. Life must have been simple and not photosynthesizing or oxygen-using.

Where did all that water go? What forms of life were able to take hold in those Martian lakes? Times like this I half think they shouldn't have called the rover Curiosity ... they should have called it Patience, because that's what we need to wait for these tests to be done ... which is a virtue, I know, I know ...


unkleE said...

I found this very interesting, thanks, especially this comment: "Mars has just become a fascinating test case of how easy it is for simple life to emerge. If it didn't happen there, then it must be very hard."

I am aware people have discussed this question in some depth, and the "Drake Equation" and the "Rare Earth Equation" have been developed to try to estimate the possibility of life emerging with at least a little precision.

Do you think the facts you refer to here are really likely to add much to all that?

BenMc said...

The presence of water should be a factor in those equations (I know it influences one of the Drake equation parameters), and as a liquid environment at reasonable temperatures, I think it may be perhaps the most important ingredient -- so from that I'd say that it would add a lot of info.

On the other hand: we have to recognize that earth and Mars exchange rocks and could have even exchanged life on those rocks. So life found on Mars could be a contaminant from Earth!

Bottom line: from geology it looks like life followed liquid oceans extremely quickly. If we find independent, simple life on Mars then we can say simple life is a pretty direct consequence of water + right kind of star.
Complex life may be another game entirely, requiring oxygen, which Mars may not have enough of ...