The Mars we see today is a far cry from what it looked like many millions or even billions of years ago. The planet’s dry, reddish landscape once had water, and scientists have already discovered evidence that rivers once flowed on its surface. But did life take root there? That’s a question researchers would love to answer, and a new study points to the possibility that the planet might indeed have had some form of life.
In a research paper published in Geophysical Research Letters, Patrick Gasda of the Los Alamos National Laboratory reveals that NASA’s Curiosity rover has detected the presence of boron in the Gale Crater on Mars. That’s incredibly significant because it’s thought that boron may be a key ingredient for the development of RNA, which is a vital for living things.
“Because [boron] may play an important role in making RNA — one of the building blocks of life — finding boron on Mars further opens the possibility that life could have once arisen on the planet,” Gasda says. “Borates are one possible bridge from simple organic molecules to RNA. Without RNA, you have no life. The presence of boron tells us that, if organics were present on Mars, these chemical reactions could have occurred.”
The location of the boron discovered on Mars is also notable. It was detected in calcium sulfate veins, pointing to the presence of boron in the groundwater. It is thought that life originates in water, and the conditions in the Gale Crater would have been suitable for life as we understand it.
The discovery is a long way from stumbling over fossilized Martian bones, but it’s a step in the right direction.