Scientists say they’ve discovered a new species of Martian rover called Cristiano Curioso.
The team reports their findings today in the journal Nature.
The rover is the first rover to travel to Mars from Earth, and its arrival coincided with a massive meteor shower.
Cristiano was designed to explore the surface of Mars, where many ancient microbes could have thrived.
The Curiosity rover landed on Mars in August 2012 and has been searching for signs of life there ever since.
Now, the team is hoping that a small rover will find evidence of life on the surface in the next few years.
It could be the only evidence we’ll ever have of life in the early days of our planet.
But for now, Cristiano has only found bits and pieces of Martian rock.
The research team says Cristiano is the only rover ever sent to Mars that actually visited a Martian site.
This new discovery is important because it may be the first evidence of biological activity on Mars, says team member David Poulton, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
The finding suggests Cristiano could be one of the first discoveries of life to ever land on a Martian surface.
It’s a major step in the search for alien life, says geologist Richard Shanks of the University of Texas at Austin.
But Poulson cautions that there’s still a lot of work to be done to understand the microbes on Cristiano.
“It’s hard to see this as a positive, but it’s a start,” says Poul, who has been studying the rover since it was discovered.
“We have to find the rocks, but we also have to understand how they got there.”
This is a really interesting find, says Pascual Zavala, a microbial paleontologist at the University at Buffalo, who was not involved in the study.
But he’s concerned that the findings don’t provide definitive proof of the presence of life.
Cristiani has found several other pieces of ancient Martian rock that could be a key to discovering how microbial life developed on Mars.
Poul’s team was able to find some of these pieces of rock using magnetic detection techniques.
They used lasers to scan samples of rocks and rocksites that had been drilled out of the ground to see if they contained microbial life.
“There’s a good chance that we could actually find microbes that are living on these rocks,” says Zavila.
In some cases, the samples showed traces of life, he says.
But that’s just a very rough indicator of the type of life that’s on them.
And so, there’s the question of whether or not there’s any organic material that’s actually there.
The researchers also found a few fragments of Martian sandstone that was chemically similar to what they found on Cristo.
Zavalla says he’s still working out whether this sandstone is actually carbonate, the stuff that rocks make when they form.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s carbonate carbonate that has been sitting around for millions of years, he adds.
But it’s definitely a potential indication that there might be organic material on Cristiana rocks.
The results of the search are still being analyzed.
“The discovery of this new rover and Cristiano’s discovery is a significant milestone in the quest to search for extraterrestrial life,” says planetary scientist John Grunsfeld, who also is part of the team.
But the rover’s first few months on Mars will be a bit of a test for Cristiano and its handlers, who hope to find more life on Cristianos surface soon.
The mission is still in the initial stages of planning, but Cristiano will be operating in a very harsh environment.
The spacecraft will have to use a variety of different techniques, including drilling down through the rock to find any traces of ancient life, or using infrared telescopes to look for any signs of water.
“One of the things that makes this mission interesting is that it will be conducting a long-term exploration mission,” Poulston says.
“This is the most sensitive mission we’ve ever conducted, and we’ve done it for over 40 years.”
The team is planning to land Cristiano in the southern part of Mars and then return it to Earth, where it will continue its research.
It also plans to continue its work on Cristiastro.
“Cristiano’s mission is a major milestone in our mission to search the Red Planet for life,” said NASA’s James Currie, the agency’s planetary scientist.
“Our goal is to continue to explore, and learn from, the Red World for decades to come.”