Recent rock discoveries by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover reveal that the red planet had a much more Earth-like past than we ever imagined.
According to a new study of samples from the rover, Mars’ rocks contain surprisingly high levels of manganese oxides, which suggests that Mars once had a wealth of both atmospheric oxygen and liquid water.
“These high manganese materials can’t form without lots of liquid water and strongly oxidizing conditions,” said Nina Lanza, a planetary scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a co-author of the new study. “Here on Earth, we had lots of water but no widespread deposits of manganese oxides until after the oxygen levels in our atmosphere rose.”
The appearance of these manganese oxides marks a crucial turning point in Earth’s history, the point at which its atmosphere began shifting from low oxygen to high oxygen — and became able to support life.
Thus, the new findings may mean that Mars’ atmosphere was once rather Earth-like, and may have even been able to support life.
That said, Lanza makes clear that “It’s hard to confirm whether this scenario for Martian atmospheric oxygen actually occurred. But it’s important to note that this idea represents a departure in our understanding for how planetary atmospheres might become oxygenated.”
As for signs of Martian life, NASA adds that “Abundant atmospheric oxygen has been treated as a so-called biosignature, or a sign of extant life, but this process does not require life.”
We’ll just have to see what the Curiosity rover digs up next.
Next, watch the incredible 360-degree Mars Rover video released earlier this year. Then, read about how Elon Musk plans to get the human race to Mars within ten years.