The latest research indicates Mars was habitable because of a new mineral found on the planet

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has found an important mineral on the Martian surface that leads researchers to believe the planet once was hospitable to life.

The MRO found carbonates, which is formed in alkaline water when water and carbon dioxide mix with calcium, magnesium or iron.  Carbonates can be found on Earth in locations where life survives, which makes it a significant find on the Red Planet.

"It would have been a pretty clement, benign environment for early Martian life," Brown University graduate student Bethany Ehlmann said.  "It preserved a record of a particular type of habitat, a neutral to alkaline water environment."

Because carbonates dissolve quickly in low pH solutions, it could have taken longer than expected to find carbonates on the Red Planet.  MRO's findings are about the size of a football field and deposits are limited.

Ehlmann and fellow researchers made the presentation during the American Geophysical Union's Fall Meeting 2008 in San Francisco, with research being published in Science.

Researchers believe the carbonate is 3.6 billion years old, and it was found at the edge of a 930-mile-wide basis located in a mid-latitude region of the planet called Nili Fossae.  Oddly enough, Nili Fossae will not be one of the locations researched by the Mars Science Laboratory NASA rover in 2011.

Primitive life would have liked living in the regions with carbonates.

Researchers have collected even more data on the possible existence of water on the Red Planet:  gullies created by flowing water, minerals that can only be created with water, and several ancient lakes on the surface.  Scientists continue to research how and what kind of living things could have lived on Mars.

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