planetary life

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This low-angle self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the site from which it reached down to drill into a rock target called "Buckskin" on lower Mount Sharp. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

NASA’s Curiosity Rover has made a fascinating discovery on Mars: preserved organic matter. The sulfur-rich material was found along the bottom of a long-dry lake, and supports the possibility that life could exist, or may once have existed, on our second closest celestial neighbor.

While not itself evidence of life, the material found in the lake bed does contain the building blocks of life, deposited some 3 billion years ago. But everything else about it is still in question. For one, how did it get there? It could be the natural result of the rock formation process, or it could have been deposited by a meteorite, like the one that formed the lake. Or it could be the result of biological processes within the lake, or in rivers that fed the lake. NASA expert Jennifer Eigenbrode says that it’s too soon to determine where the deposits came from, but it’s a promising starting point for future research.

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