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Scientists discover ‘strongest evidence’ yet that Mars once supported life

It could be a significant breakthrough in the hunt for life on Mars, according to a team of scientists.

A team of scientists, led by the Natural History Museum in London and the University of Aberdeen, have reportedly released a study that supports the theory that trace minerals found below the surface of Mars may be the latest indication that life once existed on the Red Planet.

Using data from from the U.S. space agency NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), the team of researchers were able to deduce that ancient asteroid impacts may have served as natural probes into the Martian surface. The impacts, according to the research, would have allowed subsurface minerals to rise to the surface. Recent research has shown that many of the rocks brought up from the Martian subsurface contain clays and minerals, both of which indicate the basic elements for life exist on Mars.

Dr. Joseph Michalski, lead author and planetary geologist at the Natural History Museum said: “All the ingredients were there for life, but only small single-cell organisms could have survived in those conditions.”

“But I would now be more surprised if there was never any life on Mars, than I would be if we did one day discover that simple life lived in that environment,” he added. 

The McLaughlin Crater, a massive crater, is widely seen as one such area of interest in the study. Researcher say the crater may have serve as a collection point for water, possibly forming a large lake.

The report is not that far-fetched, according to researchers. Up to half of all life on Earth consists of simple microorganisms living beneath the surface of Earth. Scientists have repeatedly suggested that life on Mars, if it exists, would likely remain below the surface, far from deadly radiation that continuously bombards the planet.

The study comes a space agencies around the world have released findings relating to the search to discover evidence of life on Mars. NASA, which is currently operating its one-ton rover on the surface of Mars, has a stated goal of discovering life on the Red Planet. The U.S. space agency is currently preparing to drill into the subsurface of Mars, a first for NASA engineers. A number of space agencies have announced future plans to send probes to the Red Planet, part of the ongoing search for signs of life, and it remains unclear whether one of those missions will take aim at some of the Martian sites identified by researchers.

The report is published in the latest edition of Nature Geoscience.