NASA: Ancient Mars Had 'Key Ingredients for Life'

Agency suggests some areas of Mars were very hospitable for life.

This false-color map shows the area within Gale Crater on Mars, where NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Aug. 5, 2012, and the location where Curiosity collected its first drilled sample at the "John Klein" rock.

This false-color map shows the area within Gale Crater where NASA's Curiosity collected its first drilled sample at the "John Klein" rock.

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Mars once had conditions that could have supported life, according to a new analysis of rocks on the planet.

Ancient Mars had some "key chemical ingredients for life," including sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen and carbon, NASA announced Tuesday. The findings are the latest from the Mars Curiosity Rover's analysis of rocks in Mars' Gale Crater.

[PHOTOS: Curiosity Lands on Mars]

"A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment," Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program, said in a statement. "From what we know now, the answer is yes."

NASA's Curiosity rover is a one-ton robotic vehicle that has been exploring the Martian surface since it landed there last summer. The rover is outfitted with an onboard chemistry lab designed to test whether Mars has or once had life. Tuesday's discovery was made after the rover drilled into its first rock, allowing scientists a better understanding of the planet's chemical makeup.

The analysis also suggests that Mars may have once had "relatively fresh water" in an area known as Yellowknife Bay. According to NASA, the clay found there was "not harshly oxidizing, acidic or extremely salty." The agency hasn't said how long ago these chemicals may have existed, but suggested that they are "very ancient."

Paul Mahaffy, a NASA scientist at its Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a statement that the chemicals could have once served as an energy source for microbial organisms such as bacteria.

"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," he said.

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