Alien enthusiasts have a new reason to get excited about potential life on Mars, after scientists found cracked mud on the Red Planet.
A recent research paper showed that the conditions that created cracks in the surface of Mars might have been favourable for microscopic life to thrive.
While scientists don’t yet know how life on Earth began, a prevalent theory is that repeated cycles of wet and dry conditions might have helped build the complex chemical building blocks needed for microbial life.
That’s why people are excited about mud cracks found by Nasa’s Curiosity Mars rover, because they could indicated similar conditions.
The paper, published in Nature, describes how the distinctive hexagonal pattern of these mud cracks offers the first evidence of wet-dry cycles on early Mars.
“These particular mud cracks form when wet-dry conditions occur repeatedly – perhaps seasonally,” said the paper’s lead author, William Rapin of France’s Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie.
The Curiosity rover is gradually climbing the sedimentary layers of Mount Sharp, a three-mile-high formation within the Gale Crater on Mars.
The rover picked up the mud cracks in 2021 after drilling a sample from a rock target nicknamed “Pontours”, which sits between a clay-rich layer and an upper layer full of salty minerals known as sulphates.
While clay minerals tend to form in water, sulphates typically form as water dries up. The area gives scientists a record of a time when lakes and rivers that once filled the crater were receding.
The marks in the mud at Pontours shows that the mud must have dried and made wet, then dried again multiple times. The wet-dry conditions must have persisted for extended periods, said scientists.
“This is the first tangible evidence we’ve seen that the ancient climate of Mars had such regular, Earth-like wet-dry cycles,” Rapin says. “But even more important is that wet-dry cycles are helpful – maybe even required – for the molecular evolution that could lead to life.”
“It’s pretty lucky of us to have a planet like Mars nearby that still holds a memory of the natural processes which may have led to life,” Rapin concludes.
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