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Curiosity Rover Found Signs of an Ancient Lake on Mars That Was Possibly Hospitable to Life

What life? Let's just hope it's not those water monsters from "The Waters of Mars."


Here on Earth, we pretty much expect our water to be drinkable, but it’s a pretty amazing find on Mars. Scientists reported earlier this year that the Curiosity Rover found signs of an ancient lake on Mars, but they’re just now finding out that the lake’s water may have been basically drinkable by human standards and hospitable to life.

Specifically, the lake, which existed 3.5 billion years ago in Gale Crater, would have been hospitable to mineral-eating organisms known as chemolithoautotrophs. Most water previously known to have existed on Mars would have been too acidic for life, but this lake would have been fairly neutral in composition.

Unfortunately, we can’t know for sure whether or not these bacteria actually lived there, because the rover isn’t equipped to do that kind of a science, but the prospect is very exciting. We’ll have to wait until NASA is ready to launch a mission to bring samples back from Mars to find out. However, any of these microorganisms would be long dead, because Mars has lost its atmosphere and become a generally cold and inhospitable place since the lake existed.

“Then what’s so exciting about Martian bacteria that has been dead for billions of years?” you ask? Well, science has a lot of trouble explaining the origins of life, because we have an incredibly limited sample size of “just the Earth.” Not only would finding proof of ancient life on Mars prove that Earth isn’t unique in the universe, but it would allow us to compare just how life came about on both planets and learn some new things about where we come from.

Something we do know about life, though, is that it really loves water. As famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it, “On Earth, any place we find water, we find life.” If life ever existed on Mars, this ancient lake is a good bet for a place that we’d find it. For more about water’s relationship to life and where else we might look to find it, watch Tyson himself explain:

Please, please keep funding planetary science so we can actually look into things like this. OK, government?

(via The Washington Post, image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

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Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct Geekosystem (RIP), and then at The Mary Sue starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at Smash Bros.