The surprising exploration doesn"t make it any kind of less most likely that scientists will discover life on the Red Planet.

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The HiRISE camera plank NASA"s Mars reconnaissance Orbiter captured this photo of the Curiosity rover top top April 18, 2021.(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona)

The an are agency"s Curiosity rover make the surprising discovery while investigating clay-rich sedimentary rocks around its landing site in Gale Crater, a former lake that was made once an asteroid win the Red Planet approximately 3.6 billion years ago.

Clay is a great signpost towards proof of life since it"s usually developed when rocky minerals weather away and also rot after call with water — a an essential ingredient for life. The is also wonderful material because that storing microbial fossils.

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But as soon as Curiosity took two samples of old mudstone, a sedimentary rock containing clay, from patches that the dried-out lake bed, date to the very same time and also place (3.5 billion years back and just 400m apart), researchers found that one patch consisted of only half the meant amount of clay minerals. Instead, the patch hosted a greater quantity of stole oxides, the compound that give Mars the rusty hue. 

The team to trust the culprit behind this geological disappearing act is brine: supersalty water that leaked right into the mineral-rich clay layers and also destabilized them, flushing lock away and wiping spot of both the geology — and also possibly even the organic — document clean.

"We used to think that as soon as these great of clay minerals created at the bottom of the lake in Gale Crater, they continued to be that way, keeping the moment in time they developed for billions of years," examine lead author Tom Bristow, a researcher at NASA"s Ames Research facility in hill View, California, claimed in a statement. "But later on brines damaged down these clay mineral in some locations — basically resetting the rock record."

The rover completed its evaluation by drilling into the great of the Martian rock before using the chemistry and mineralogy instrument, known as CheMin, to inspection the samples.

The procedure of chemical transformation in sediments is dubbed diagenesis, and it could have created brand-new life in ~ Mars even as it erased few of the evidence of the old life top top its surface, according to the study authors. So also though old documents of life may have actually been erased in the brine patches, the chemical problems brought around by the influx of salty water may have actually enabled more life to feather up in its place, the scientists said.

"These are excellent places come look for proof of ancient life and also gauge habitability," research co-author man Grotzinger, a geology professor in ~ the California institute of Technology, claimed in the statement. "Even though diagenesis may erase the indicators of life in the original lake, it creates the chemistry gradients vital to assistance subsurface life, for this reason we room really excited come have discovered this."

Curiosity"s mission to Mars started nine year ago, yet the rover has ongoing to research the Red planet well past its early two-year mission timeline, to establish the historical habitability that Mars because that life. The is now working in teamwork with the brand-new Perseverance Mars rover, which landed in February 2021 and has been tasked with collecting rock and also soil samples because that a possible return come Earth.

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The research study done by Curiosity has not just revealed just how the Martian climate changed but additionally helped Perseverance determine which soil samples to collection to increase the odds of detect life.

"We"ve learned something very important: There room some parts of the Martian rock document that aren"t so great at preserving proof of the planet"s previous and feasible life," co-author Ashwin Vasavada, a Curiosity job scientist at NASA"s Jet Propulsion activities in California, said in the statement. "The fortunate thing is, we uncover both close with each other in Gale Crater and also can use mineralogy come tell i m sorry is which."

The find for life ~ above Mars has been provided fresh impetus by a brand-new study that might have triangulated the feasible location that the six methane emissions detected by the Curiosity rover throughout its time in Gale crater, Live scientific research reported. Since all of the methane in Earth’s atmosphere comes from organic sources, scientists are dazzling to find the gas top top Mars.

The researchers published their result July 9 in the newspaper Science.

Originally released on Live Science.

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Ben Turner is a U.K. Based employee writer in ~ Live Science. That covers physics and astronomy, amongst other topics prefer weird animals and climate change. He graduated from college College London v a degree in particle physics before training together a journalist. When he"s not writing, Ben enjoys reading literature, play the guitar and also embarrassing himself through chess.