NASA is studying Mars from data gathered by multiple rovers and spacecraft in orbit in an attempt to determine if the Red Planet could have been home to life billions of years ago. Recent photos taken by the Curiosity Rover show a rocky and desolate landscape to most who look at them, but to scientist Christopher House the images show something else.
House is a professor of geosciences and is a participating scientist on the NASA Mars Science Laboratory mission. That mission has a task of determining if Gale Crater could have supported life 3.5 billion years ago. House says that the research suggests it could have.
House says that Gale Crater appears to have been a lake environment. The mission has found a lot of finely layered mudstone in the crater, and he says that the water would have persisted for a million years or more. House says that the lake eventually filled with sediment and turned to stone.
The stone then eroded, he says that the same thing happened to the sand dunes that came after the lake. House says that the whole system, including the groundwater that ran through it, lasted much longer perhaps a billion or more years. The scientist says that there are fractures filled with sulfate in the rocks, indicating water ran through the rocks much later, after the planet was no longer forming lakes.
The team is particularly interested in sulfur gases from the sulfate and sulfide minerals because the presence of reduced sulfur minerals like pyrite would indicate the environment could have supported life in the past. House says that each time the rover moves, it opens a new field of view with new rocks and new questions to ask.