CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – Reuters
A Martian rock analyzed by NASA’s rover Opportunity contains clays formed in non-acidic water, an environment potentially suitable for the chemistry of ancient life to brew.
The solar-powered Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004 for what was expected to be a 90-day mission to look for signs there was once water. It, and a twin rover, Spirit, which succumbed to the harsh Martian environment three years ago, had both found rocks altered by highly acidic water.
While acid-loving microbes exist on Earth, scientists suspect the chemical building blocks for life need more neutral conditions to evolve into life.
“The tough thing about an acid environment is that it’s very, very hard, we believe, to get pre-biotic chemistry, the kind of chemistry that can lead to the origin of life,” Cornell University’s Steve Squyres, lead scientist for the Opportunity and Spirit missions, said. “What’s exciting about this discovery is that it points to a neutral pH at a time very, very early in Martian history,” he added.