NASA's Curiosity Finds a Key Element for Life on Mars

Wednesday, 25 March 2015 - 4:21PM
NASA
Science News
Mars
Wednesday, 25 March 2015 - 4:21PM
NASA's Curiosity Finds a Key Element for Life on Mars
Scientists have long theorized that nitrogen, a key component of life, was present somewhere on Mars. Now, NASA's Curiosity rover just found solid nitrogen on Mars, bringing us one step closer to discovering whether life can survive and persist on the Red Planet.

Researchers were testing samples brought back by Curiosity when they found several solid forms of nitrogen, in the sediments. The results have been confirmed at three different points by samples taken in different areas on Mars. Technically, Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument can release nitrogen itself when its samples are heated, but NASA researchers claim that there is at least twice as much nitrogen as could be explained by our own contamination.

"This discovery is a new step in assessing whether Mars is and/or was habitable, since nitrogen is a basic requirement for life as we know it," Javier Martín-Torres said to Science Daily

The presence of nitrogen doesn't necessarily mean that there is life on Mars, as the researchers believe that the most likely explanation is the nitrogen being released during meteorite impacts or lightning strikes. But this may mean that the planet underwent a nitrogen cycle, which would include biological processes, at some point during its history, and that life could form sometime in the future. 

NASA's Jennifer Stern said in a statement, "Finding a biochemically accessible form of nitrogen is more support for the ancient Martian environment at Gale Crater being habitable."
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