NASA Is About to Announce What Curiosity Rover Found after Searching for Signs of Life on Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover landed inside Mars's 96-mile-wide Gale Crater on August 6, 2012, and has spent its time since then investigating the Red Planet's geology, climate and the question of whether or not it has ever supported microbial life.

Now, the rover has seemingly made a new discovery which will be revealed this Thursday, according to the space agency. NASA has scheduled a live discussion for 2 p.m. ET focusing on "new science results" from the rover, although the nature of what has been found remains to be seen as no details will be made public before then.

The event can be streamed live on NASA's online TV channel, Facebook Live, Twitch TV, Ustream, Youtube, and Periscope. It will be hosted by NASA's assistant director of science for communications, Michelle Thaller, with a panel consisting of:

  • Paul Mahaffy, director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland
  • Jen Eigenbrode, a research scientist at Goddard
  • Chris Webster, senior research fellow, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
  • Ashwin Vasavada, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist, JPL

You can join in on the discussion via social media using the #askNASA.

In September 2014, the car-sized, nuclear-powered rover reached the outskirts of the 3.4-mile-high Mount Sharp which forms a peak within the Gale Crater. Since then, it has been steadily climbing upwards, investigating the different rock layers, which could shine a light on Mars's transition from a fairly warm and wet world to the arid planet we know today.

Investigating the Gale Crater region could also provide clues to Mars's past habitability. Among Curiosity's most important findings have been the discovery of rocks in ancient stream beds within the crater that contained some of the key chemical ingredients for supporting life—including sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and carbon.

"A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment," Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington, said in 2013 following the findings. "From what we know now, the answer is yes."

This self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle on Vera Rubin Ridge, with Mount Sharp in the background. The mosaic was assembled from dozens of images taken by Curiosity's Mars Hands Lens Imager (MAHLI), which were all taken on Jan. 23, 2018. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The rover's key piece of equipment—its drill which allows it to collect pristine rock samples from the planet's interior—had been out of action since late 2016, when it malfunctioned. Fortunately, it is now working again after operators recently devised a new drilling technique.

The $2.5 billion mission is significant for demonstrating the ability to precisely land a very large, heavy rover, with long-range mobility, on the Martian surface.