UT professor part of NASA team to make major discovery on Mars

UT professor part of NASA team to make major discovery on Mars

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The sample was drilled from sedimentary bedrock in an area which previous research shows could have been an ancient river system or lake bed. The sample was drilled from sedimentary bedrock in an area which previous research shows could have been an ancient river system or lake bed.
"This is the key, it doesn't mean it was inhabited. It means if microbes were living there, this is an environment where they would probably thrive," University of Tennessee Associate Professor Linda Kah explained. "This is the key, it doesn't mean it was inhabited. It means if microbes were living there, this is an environment where they would probably thrive," University of Tennessee Associate Professor Linda Kah explained.

By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - NASA scientists announced Tuesday a discovery by the Mars rover shows that the red planet would once have been capable of supporting life.

A fundamental question of the Curiosity rover's mission was whether or not Mars could have once supported life. Now NASA knows for certain the answer is yes.

"This was the first time we'd seen inside the Martian rock," explained University of Tennessee Associate Professor Linda Kah, a member of the team working with NASA on the Curiosity rover mission. "We expected, like earlier missions to Mars, that underneath the dusty coating that we'd probably have red dust and red material. It was this first test hole; it was the first time that we saw this blue-gray color on the inside of a rock. That color in itself told all of the scientists on the team that something was different here."

The six-wheeled rover dug into the red planet's dusty surface, and for the first time found definitive proof of a life supporting environment beyond Earth.

"What we've done with the Curiosity rover is expand our search for inhabitability to really be looking for environments that are nice, that are friendly to life," Kah said.

The sample was drilled from sedimentary bedrock in an area which previous research shows could have been an ancient river system or lake bed.

But while the team discovered Mars could have supported life, it doesn't prove it did.

"This is the key, it doesn't mean it was inhabited. It means if microbes were living there, this is an environment where they would probably thrive," she explained.

The rover has been exploring Mars' surface since its dramatic landing in August, and Kah and the rest of the team say this is fantastic development.

"It allows us to tell a new story about Mars that we haven't been able to, so yes the excitement is high and we can think about part of our mission is accomplished," Kah said.

NASA says the next step is to find additional rock samples to confirm the results. Kah explained they must rule out possible contamination from the rover itself.

The team is planning out where and when to take the next rock samples, and there is still a long way to go and many more questions for the Curiosity rover to answer.

"We've always as humans wondered if we were alone, and so I don't think were ever as a species going to end our search for whether life may exist elsewhere," Kah said. "But the universe is a very big place, and we really need to take every instance we have to really examine it and ask those questions. And here we've taken a step further to answer that goal."

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