With this first ever detection of the element boron in the ancient surface of Mars, researchers are ever more hopeful that the arid Red Planet’s ancient climate was once clement and habitable. Or so report NASA and Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
Boron, an elemental signature of evaporated past water on Earth, is prevalent in now arid regions like Death Valley which straddles the Nevada-California state lines. Yet with this new find by NASA’s Curiosity rover at Mars’ Mount Sharp inside Gale crater, the idea is that the Red Planet’s ancient groundwater was liquid and habitable. Even though the timeframe and exact era of habitability remain up for debate, more and more planetary scientists are coming to the conclusion that Mars may have primed for the evolution of microbial life over timescales of hundreds of millions of years.
“If the boron that we found in calcium sulfate mineral veins on Mars is similar to what we see on Earth, it would indicate that the groundwater of ancient Mars would have been [32-140 degrees Fahrenheit] with neutral-to-alkaline ph,” Patrick Gasda, a postdoctoral researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said in a statement.
The Los Alamos lab also noted that the temperature, pH factor, and dissolved mineral content of the groundwater could make it habitable
As the lab noted, the boron was identified by Curiosity’s laser-shooting Chemistry and Camera (Chemcam) instrument, developed at Los Alamos in conjunction with CNES, the French space agency.
Boron, a very water soluble element, likely retreated with ancient water from a lake near the rover’s current area of exploration at Mars’ Gale Crater and into the subsurface.
This water had to have been lukewarm, notes Gasda, in an explanatory video. He explains that the boron also tells us that it was not overly acidic or alkaline so normal organisms could have lived there.