Life on Mars? NASA Curiosity rover detects nitrates

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has revealed traces of nitric oxide on Mars, a breakdown of nitrates that indicate some forms of plant life on the planet were prevalent in the past.

Nitrates are created by plants and bacteria, but may have come to Mars through lightning or meteorites. The evidence is certainly not conclusive, but it is the first time samples of nitrogen have been found on the Red Planet.

NASA’s Curiosity rover spotted the nitrogen by using the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, capable of investigating soil, sand and mudstone. It found several samples of nitrogen, which show that Mars’ past could foster some sort of life.

It is unlikely that the nitrogen is biological in origin however, but since it remained on the Red Planet for so long it shows that the ecosystem on Mars would have favored life.

"Scientists have long thought that nitrates would be produced on Mars from the energy released in meteorite impacts, and the amounts we found agree well with estimates from this process," says Jennifer Stern of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

It is another noteable sign that life on Mars may have been possible, following the discovery a few years ago that Mars used to be covered in 30 per cent water. That is mostly ice today, with the climate on Mars incapable of keeping water from freezing.

Several scientists believe with the right tools to “heat up Mars”, life might be able to flourish on the Red Planet. The difficulty is creating a factory or space capsule big enough to affect the entire planet in a quick time.