Organic Matter Found On Mars, Nasa Announces

Organic Matter Found On Mars, Nasa Announces

Organic Matter Found On Mars, Nasa Announces

Organic molecules were found in 3 billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface.

Earlier today, NASA reported that its Mars Curiosity rover made some curious new discoveries on the Red Planet.

The unmanned Curiosity rover has also found increasing evidence for seasonal variations of methane on Mars, indicating the source of the gas is likely the planet itself, or possibly its subsurface water. The space agency says that water-rock chemistry might have led to the creation of this methane, but it can't rule out the "possibility of biological origins".

Launched in 2011, Curiosity was created to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. "And it makes us more confident that if biomarkers" - or direct evidence of biologic activity - "are there, we might find them". Eigenbrode is the lead author on a paper presenting the discovery in the June 8 edition of the journal Science. Together, the researchers believe these findings to be "breakthroughs in astrobiology".

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Questions remain, however, as to how the organic material was formed. "While we don't know the source of the material, the unbelievable consistency of the results makes me think we have a slam-dunk signal for organics on Mars", Eigenbrode said.

"The detective work they did is worthy of Sherlock Holmes", said Katherine Freeman, a professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University who was not involved with the research. What the study has done, though, is to propel the search for life on Mars higher up the list of worldwide space exploration priorities - giving space agencies ammunition to argue for a coordinated programme of missions to explore the Red Planet.

"The big takeaway is that we can find evidence". "We don't know, but these results tell us we are on the right track". The crystals may have obtained methane from ancient forms of life.

While we know that Mars was habitable in the past, the case demonstrates just how hard it will be to ever prove the existence of past life on its surface.

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Curiosity's methane measurements occurred over four-and-a-half Earth years, covering parts of three Martian years. Using SAM, Webster and his colleagues have found a persistent background level of methane in the atmosphere above Gale Crater over the last five years of about 0.4 part per billion-a scarcely detectable trace, to be sure, but enough to pique astrobiologists' interest.

It's the first time "something repeatable in the methane story" has been observed on Mars, Chris Webster of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said. The magnitude of these seasonal peaks - by a factor of three - was far more than scientists expected. "We now have really good reasons to look a whole lot harder", he says. "It's tripling ... that's a huge, huge difference". This variation was detected by Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite. The diameter is slightly smaller than a USA dime. "So way under the ground this methane is trapped".

The Curiosity rover recently started drilling into the surface of Mars again after a almost two-year break due to a mechanical issue. The twin Vikings came up pretty much empty.

They hit pay dirt about 6.5 kilometres away, at two sites near Pahrump Hills at the base of Mt Sharp. Also pleasing is that the presence of chlorine and sulphur, which both preserve organics, suggests the presence of many more deposits from which to learn more about Mars' past and possible ecosystems. This doesn't constitute proof that life existed on Mars, though. That's a harder question to address scientifically, but I think that we need to give the search for life on Mars due diligence.

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