Washington: An analysis of rock samples collected by the Curiosity rover indicates that Mars could have supported living microbes, the American space agency NASA said.
    
"A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment. From what we know now, the answer is yes," Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program told reporters on Tuesday.
    
Scientists identified sulphur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon -- some of the key chemical ingredients required to support life -- in the powder Curiosity drilled out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater on the Red Planet last month.
    
"The range of chemical ingredients we have identified in the sample is impressive, and it suggests pairings such as sulfates and sulfides that indicate a possible chemical energy source for micro-organisms," said Paul Mahaffy, principal investigator of the SAM suite of instruments at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
    
Curiosity, a six-wheeled robot with 10 scientific instruments on board, is the most sophisticated vehicle ever sent to another planet.
    
The data indicate that the Yellowknife Bay area, which the rover is exploring, was the end of an ancient river system or an intermittently wet lake bed that could have provided chemical energy and other favourable conditions for microbes.
    
The rock is made up of a fine grain mudstone containing clay minerals, sulfate minerals and other chemicals.
    
This wet environment, unlike some others on Mars, was not harshly oxidizing, acidic, or extremely salty, NASA said.
    
"Clay minerals make up at least 20 per cent of the composition of this sample," said David Blake, principal investigator for the CheMin instrument at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field in California.
    
NASA scientists said these clay minerals are a product of the reaction of relatively fresh water with igneous minerals, such as olivine, also present in the sediment.

(Agencies)

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