NASA's Curiosity rover discovers organic matter on Mars

08 June, 2018, 16:25 | Author: Rosalie Gross
  • NASA news conference Mars announcement

NASA's Curiosity rover has uncovered organic material in an ancient lakebed and confirmed a seasonal cycle of methane - offering the strongest evidence yet of potential life, past or even present, on the Red Planet.

The "building blocks" for life have been discovered in 3-billion-year-old organic matter on Mars, NASA scientists announced Thursday.

In two studies published Thursday in the journal Science, this new finding from NASA's Curiosity rover is paired with another discovery: The planet's methane - another organic molecule usually (but not always) produced by living beings - varies with the seasons.

Nasa's Curiosity rover has discovered organic matter on Mars, the agency has announced in a press conference.

In the second paper, scientists describe the discovery of seasonal variations in methane in the Martian atmosphere over the course of nearly three Mars years, which is almost six Earth years. That's because the surface of Mars is constantly bombarded with radiation that can break down organic compounds.

More powerful spacecraft are needed to prove whether life ever existed on Mars.

There's also excitement because Curiosity found this stuff without having to look very hard: the organics turned up in some mud that looked likely. The methane signal has been observed for almost 3 Martian years (nearly 6 Earth years), peaking each summer.

The samples were heated to 500C in Curiosity's oven to release any organic molecules, the kind that don't vaporise easily.

Jennifer Eigenbrode, an astrobiologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who led the organics study, said she's intrigued by the possibility that life might have existed and adapted on Mars. Such reactions could create enough energy to feed microbial life.

Q: What organic molecules did you find, and how do they compare with anything that is found or produced on Earth?

The organic-rich sample came from the bottom of what used to be a massive lake inside Gale Crater billions of years ago. And NASA's scheduled Mars 2020 rover is slated to package soil samples for future missions to pick up and return to Earth.

Methane, the simplest organic molecule, ranges "between 0.24 to 0.65 parts per billion, peaking near the end of summer in the Northern hemisphere", said the report, based on three years of data. Sharp, the 3-mile-high mound in the middle of Gale Crater whose layers of sediments serve as individual chapters in the geological history of Mars. Instead it's believed that the red planet have had an atmosphere that supported vast oceans of liquid water and within that water may have flourished organic life.

NASA revealed the list of scientists who will be discussing the recent discoveries on Mars.

He and his colleagues think the methane is coming from underground.

"Are there signs of life on Mars?" asked Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters. That's particularly exciting since water ― so far as we know ― is also an essential ingredient for life. Mars doesn't recycle its rock the way that Earth does-maybe its ancient dust can teach us a thing or two about our own planet's history, said Siebach. After the first Mariner missions of the 1960s, even these were ruled out and the hope was that when the Viking landers touched down in 1976, they'd be able to find signs of biological processes.

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