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Curiosity Rover Confirms Mars Was Once "Surprisingly" Earth-Like

Bring on the Martian microbes!

By Cassidy Ward

In SYFY’s Resident Alien, a stranded extraterrestrial arrives on Earth and settles the argument over our cosmic isolation for good. The few folks fortunate enough to know Harry Vanderspeigle (Alan Tudyk) no longer have to wonder if we’re alone in the universe, for better or worse. In the real world, aliens aren’t showing up on our front lawns, so scientists have to go looking for them.

How to Watch

Watch Resident Alien on SYFY and Peacock.

Recently, the Curiosity Rover uncovered evidence of manganese oxide inside Mars’ Gale Crater, believed to be part of a dry lake at least 3.5 billion years old. Manganese oxide is commonly found in shallow waters here on Earth, suggesting that Mars was much more like Earth in its past and may have supported life. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

For More on Mars:
The ESA's ExoMars Orbiter Captures Swarms of Dark "Spiders" on the Surface of Mars
NASA Wants Its Space Rocks Stat, Announces Update for Mars Sample Return Mission
Radiation Could Limit Mars Missions to Four Years

Curiosity Rover Finds Signs of Ancient Lake and, Possibly, Life on Mars

Curiosity on Mars

Curiosity used its onboard ChemCham, an instrument on the rover’s mast designed to study the composition of rocks. It works by shooting a laser to vaporize part of the target rock. Heat from the laser transforms solid rock into a cloud of plasma and the rover’s internal spectrometer measures the light coming off that plasma to see what it’s made of.

Curiosity found small amounts of manganese oxide in Gale Crater in 2016, but the levels were low enough to be explained by known chemical processes. In a recent analysis at a different location in the crater, Curiosity found a bunch more, and scientists aren’t quite sure how it got there.

“It is difficult for manganese oxide to form on the surface of Mars, so we didn’t expect to find it in such high concentrations in a shoreline deposit. On Earth, these types of deposits happen all the time because of the high oxygen in our atmosphere produced by photosynthetic life, and from microbes that help catalyze those manganese oxidation reactions,” said the study’s lead author Patrick Gasda, in a statement.

Part of the explanation might come down to the different kinds of rock Curiosity was studying. The recent analysis was of porous rocks which would have allowed groundwater to flow through them. Researchers suggest that manganese may have been filtered out as water percolated through the course mudstone. That might explain where the manganese came from, but not how it was oxidized.

“The Gale lake environment, as revealed by these ancient rocks, gives us a window into a habitable environment that looks surprisingly similar to places on Earth today. Manganese minerals are common in the shallow, oxic waters found on lake shores on Earth, and it's remarkable to find such recognizable features on ancient Mars,” said Nina Lanza, principal investigator for the ChemCam instrument.

If microbial life ever did exist on Mars, they might have helped facilitate the oxidation process just like they do on Earth, and they might have then used the manganese as a source of energy. All that’s left for us to do is get our hands on some Mars rocks and find out for sure.

Resident Alien is streaming now on Peacock.