According to a new blog post from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the space agency revealed that Curiosity found two rock samples, known as "Aberlady" and "Kilmarie," which contain "the highest amounts of clay minerals ever found during the mission."
"Clay often forms in water, which is essential for life; Curiosity is exploring Mount Sharp to see if it had the conditions to support life billions of years ago," JPL wrote in the post. The discovery was made on the side of lower Mount Sharp, a mountain on Mars that forms the central peak inside the Gale crater.
The government space agency added Curiosity's mineralogy instrument, known as CheMin (Chemistry and Mineralogy), provided the first analyses of the samples. It also found trace amounts of hematite, an iron oxide mineral that was abundant north of lower Mount Sharp, on Vera Rubin Ridge.
Although clay is often formed in water, it can't be assumed that Mars was wet and therefore, capable of supporting life, NASA noted.
"Other than proof that there was a significant amount of water once in Gale Crater, what these new findings mean for the region is still up for debate," the space agency added in the post. "It's likely that the rocks in the area formed as layers of mud in ancient lakes - something Curiosity also found lower on Mount Sharp. Water interacted with sediment over time, leaving an abundance of clay in the rocks there."
The clay rocks are just the latest find Curiosity has made on the Martian surface. In November, the rover was drilling at the Highfield site and found four samples, including one known as "Little Colonsay" because of its startling looks, that NASA initially believed may be a meteorite, because of how shiny it is.
The Curiosity rover landed on Mars in August 2012 and has more than 12 miles on its odometer. In November Curiosity was joined on the Red Planet by NASA’s Insight Mars Lander.
Mars looms large in America’s space future.
NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic. In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that by 2040, astronauts could have visited Mars’ moon Phobos, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.
In November 2018, NASA announced that it has selected the location where its Mars 2020 rover will land on the Red Planet. The rover is expected to land on Mars Feb. 18, 2021.
Fox News’ James Rogers and The Associated Press contributed to this article.