NASA’s Mars Rover Has Found Organic Matter On The Planet's Surface

NASA conference Mars Curiosity Rover

'I'm confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet'. "Curiosity has shown that Gale crater (where the material was discovered) was habitable around 3.5 billion years ago, with conditions comparable to those on the early Earth, where life evolved around that time".

NASA says the findings "suggest the planet could have supported ancient life" and serves as additional evidence dealing with the question concerning any current life on Mars. NASA also announced it had found signs of "seasonal methane" in the Mars atmosphere.

The discovery of a wide variety of organic molecules and the detection of a seasonal methane pattern - described in two separate studies in the journal Science - add new fuel to the search for past life on Mars, scientists said.

But National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists emphasised there could be nonbiological explanations for both discoveries made by the Curiosity rover at a site called Gale crater.

"Although the surface of Mars is inhospitable today, there is clear evidence that in the distant past, the Martian climate allowed liquid water - an essential ingredient for life as we know it - to pool at the surface", NASA reports.

"When you work with something as insane as a rover on Mars, with the most complex instrument ever sent to space, it seems like we're doing what may have been perceived earlier as impossible", says lead author Jennifer Eigenbrode, a biogeochemist at NASA Goddard. "Organic matter" includes a whole host of compounds with carbon atoms in them.

"They could be changed from something like we've observed at the base of the mountain into methane that eventually makes its way back in to the atmosphere", she said.

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Each ice station will consist of layers of material and solid blocks of ice that students will drill into using equipment they designed and built.

"Are there signs of life on Mars?" All we can say from the data is that there is complex organic matter similar to what is found in many equivalent aged rocks on the Earth. They thought mudstone rocks, formed from silt accumulated at the bottom of the ancient lake, might hold some clues and analyzed the powdered samples from Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars instrument suite.

NASA says the Mars 2020 rover is made up of about 85 percent of heritage hardware from the Curiosity. Methane is one of those key organic molecules that on Earth is largely produced by living things, and can also be eaten by them, and so could theoretically serve as a signal of the possibility or presence of life. "It probably indicates more active water in the subsurface than we understood", scientist Kirsten Siebach, Martian geologist at Rice University not involved with the studies, told Gizmodo. Seasonal peaks were detected in late summer in the northern hemisphere and late winter in the southern hemisphere. "So way under the ground this methane is trapped". Such incremental progress is the whole point of NASA's Mars exploration program, Freissinet notes.

"And maybe we can find something better preserved than that, that has signatures of life in it", she told AFP.

"We've been able to rule out some of the more simple or accepted ideas of Mars's methane", Dr Webster said.

To get firmer answers, researchers will need to get equipment to Mars that's sensitive enough to detect life's thumb on the chemical scales. They're considered necessary for life to form, but there are plenty of places with lots of organic compounds but no life.

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