Image: NASA/JPL-CALTECH

Everyone from David Bowie to astrobiologists to tinfoil hat believers has pondered the question: is there life on Mars? While we‚Äôve found direct evidence of liquid water on the Red Planet, we have yet to find any microbes there. But not all hope is lost‚ÄĒnew discoveries from NASA‚Äôs Curiosity rover have brought forth more compelling evidence of habitability on Mars. I mean, in theory, all that life has been dead for billions of years, but still.

Researchers studying Curiosity‚Äôs data say the rover has detected boron in the 3.8 billion year-old Gale crater. Boron is an element that can catalyze the formation of RNA‚ÄĒor ribonucleic acid, the single-stranded carbon copy of DNA found in all living cells‚ÄĒwhen dissolved in water. The boron was discovered in calcium sulfate mineral veins suggestive of ancient groundwater, so the team believes this could mean at least some of the water once present in Gale Crater had conditions favorable to the emergence of life. The findings have been published in the Geophysical Research Letters.

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‚ÄúBecause borates may play an important role in making RNA‚ÄĒone of the building blocks of life‚ÄĒfinding boron on Mars further opens the possibility that life could have once arisen on the planet,‚ÄĚ the study‚Äôs lead author, Patrick Gasda, a postdoctoral researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, said in a statement. ‚ÄúBorates 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.‚ÄĚ

Hopefully, NASA‚Äôs 2020 Mars Rover will be able to answer the many lingering questions we have about ancient Martian life. According to Los Alamos National Laboratory, this rover will be specially equipped with a ‚ÄúSuperCam‚ÄĚ that can ‚Äúsearch for signs of past life‚ÄĚ on Mars. (More about that instrument‚Äôs capabilities here.) Fingers crossed we find something‚ÄĒhumanity really needs a win right now.

[Geophysical Research Letters]

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