NASA rover discovers possible precursor to life on Mars

The space agency NASA is one step closer to determining if life existed on ancient Mars.

We’re not talking human life or Martians, but tiny living microbes. NASA’s Curiosity rover in late 2016 made a surprising discovery among the rocks of an ancient Martian lake bed: the element boron.

On Earth, boron is associated with arid sites where much water has evaporated away. If the boron found on Mars is similar to the boron on Earth, it could mean Mars at one time supported life. NASA in 2015 confirmed finding liquid water on Mars.

“We’ve hit a jackpot,” said John Grotzinger, a former project scientist for Curiosity, after NASA announced finding the element boron, along with a “rock stew” of mineral deposits.

“We are seeing chemical complexity indicating a long, interactive history with the water. The more complicated the chemistry is, the better it is for habitability,” Grotzinger said.

Curiosity rover on Mars (NASA)
The Curiosity rover used its laser-shooting “ChemCam” to detect the element boron on Mars. (NASA)

The Mars Curiosity vehicle has been roving around Mars’ Gale Crater since August 2012, looking for signs that Mars could have supported life.

The rover fired a laser at rocks and analyzed telltale signs of different elements, finding boron and clay minerals.

Curiosity is part of NASA’s ongoing Mars research and preparation for a human mission to Mars in the 2030s.