Ancient freshwater lake on the Red Planet

Ancient freshwater lake on the Red Planet

Mars once harboured an ancient freshwater lake, capable of hosting certain microbes that thrive in extreme environment, suggests new data collected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (Nasa) Curiosity rover.

The water-body was 3.6 billion years old and existed for at least for tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of years, before the Red Planet lost its surface water.

The ancient lake was calm and had normal water coming either from polar ice caps or ground aquifers.

The water was neither acidic nor saline and contained a number of key biological elements, such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, sulphur, nitrogen and phosphorous, making it hospitable to a broad range of microorganisms.

Scientists made the stunning discovery after analysing data collected by Nasa's
Mars Curiosity rover that touched down on the surface of the Red Planet back in August, 2012.

The rover landed at Gale Crater, a 154 km wide impact basin with a mountain at its centre, which housed the water-body.

After Curiosity relayed details of the Martian soil near the rover’s landing site back to earth, the Nasa engineers guided Curiosity away from its primary objective at Mt. Sharp to investigate a 5-metre-deep trough known as Yellowknife Bay.

There the rover came across an arrangement of fine-, medium- and course-grained sedimentary rocks that suggest the existence of a lake.

The researchers tried to figure out how big the lake, but barely found any geological clue. “But the mud-stones (fine-grained sedimentary rock) into which Curiosity drilled extend over at least 4 square km,” said Ashwin R Vasavada, deputy project scientist of Mars Science Laboratory project at Jet Propulsion Laboratory and one of the team members told Deccan Herald.

Abundance of water in the lake that was around for some time, gave rise to the tantalising possibility of microbial life on the Mars. The scientists, however, could not spot any evidence to find out whether life was ever was present on the Red planet.

Any methane produced by life a few billion years ago would not be expected to remain in Mars atmosphere at the moment.

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