NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter just celebrated its 10th birthday, and sent back a fresh lead on the search for life on Mars as a gift to researchers.
It’s been ten years since the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was launched to circle and study the Red Planet next door to Earth. The orbiter has still got it after all this time – recent images sent back to NASA engineers reveal the bed of a mysterious ancient lake on Mars’ surface. According to a report from The Examiner, researchers think that the lake may hold the best chances of finding evidence of life on the barren world.
The photos were sent from a region on Mars that is nearly 100 miles from the present location of NASA’s Opportunity rover. Mars was had much more water billions of years ago, and an enormous lake appeared region photographed by the orbiter. Deep channels cut into the rocky surface provided researchers with the hint that this may be a good spot to look for evidence of life.
The channels allowed scientists to estimate the lakebed’s age. They run toward a group of volcanic plains hundreds of miles away, near Mars’ equator. Researchers estimate that the volcanic planes were created 3.6 billion years ago, so the channels from the lake bed must have formed after.
Scientists are especially fascinated by the salt deposits in the lake’s bed. According to lead researcher Brian Hynek, sediments at the bottom of the lake would have trapped decaying organic material as they sank. If there were microbes present in the lake billions of years ago, there is a strong chance that they would been kept preserved in the salt deposits.
NASA researchers hope to revisit the mysterious lake bet when they launch their next rover in 2020, never giving up hope that they may come across actual evidence of life on the Red Planet.