We’ve known that Mars could have once hosted life; after all, the planet still has frozen water on its surface. So how is this finding any more special than the others we’ve heard from Mars?
“When we were at Yellowknife bay we accomplished 99 percent of what we set out to do, but what’s changed is that as we’ve traversed the surface we’ve consistently seen these habitable conditions over time and in different locations across Mars,” says Ashwin Vasavada, project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory. “This isn’t just in one location, but the last four years we keep coming up with evidence of habitability, and this new complex chemistry really points us to something.”
After four years in operation, Curiosity continues to provide glimpses of what Mars once looked like. And while there’s still no evidence of past life, there are locations throughout Mars that are prime candidates for investigations. Finding the right mineral combinations also indicates that water in Gale Crater might have been drinkable, not too salty, and not too acidic.
In just a few years NASA plans to send a new and improved rover to Mars, but scientists haven’t chosen a landing site for the 2020 rover. Vasavada thinks this new discovery might sway the vote.
“This finding definitely influences, and should influence, how we pick a landing site for both the Mars 2020 rover and a human landing site,” he says.
This article originally appeared on Discover.