While running a standard sample analysis of some Martian dust, the Curiosity rover made a wonderful discovery — there is nitrogen, one of the essential ingredients for life, on Mars.
The Curiosity rover was testing samples of sand and analyzing their chemical components when they found nitric oxide which, while often found on Earth, had never yet been found on Mars. Researchers have long suggested that there was likely nitrogen somewhere up there, but this is the first time that suggestion has been confirmed. The discovery was just published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Of course, there's nothing that yet suggests that these nitrogen molecules mean that there has been, or currently is, life on Mars. In fact, the Curiosity team says that their most likely guess as to the source of it all is lightning strikes and meteorite impacts on the ancient Martian surface. Still, this discovery certainly makes the environment much more hospitable to the idea of life somewhere up there.
Image: Curiosity Rover at John Klein rock / NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.