Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Research | By Sheri Schwartz

NASA Finds Concentrated Batch Of Organic Molecules On Mars

NASA Finds Concentrated Batch Of Organic Molecules On Mars

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.

NASA's much-awaited announcement of findings from Mars has finally been made and it's an encouraging news for all those hoping to find signs of ancient life on the red planet.

These newly-found ancient organics, ten Kate said, serve to confirm that the basic conditions for life to form really did exist on Mars 3.5 billion years ago, and that there wasn't any outside force (say, ultraviolet light) powerful enough to destroy them entirely. What they claimed they had discovered was a fossilised micro-organism in a Martian meteorite, which they argued was evidence that there has once been life on the Red Planet.

So now they want people to think that finding a few organic molecules on Mars is an advance toward finding evidence of past life?

The rover drilled samples from sedimentary rocks known as mudstone from four sites in the Gale Crater, which it has been exploring for years.

The search for organic molecules actually began on Mars in 1976 via Viking 1 and II, so the finding of them by Curiosity is an achievement a long time coming.

"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. When they did experiments in their laboratory on Earth to bake samples containing those three types of organic carbon, the readings were all consistent with what was detected on Mars. The changes were observed over three Martian years, which are equivalent to almost half a dozen Earth years.

"What we have detected is what we would expect from a sample from an ancient lake environment on Earth", said Eigenbrode, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

"I'm equally as fascinated by the idea that life never got started on Mars in the first place". "There are locations, especially subsurface, where organic molecules are well-preserved".

These chemicals might not mean a great deal to most of us, but to areologists (that's Martian geologists) it's an indication that the organic chemistry in Martian mudstone is extremely similar to our own. The 96-mile crater, named for Australian astronomer Walter F. Gale, was most likely formed by meteor impact between 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago.

Data from the plucky rover Curiosity and the Trace Gas Orbiter high above the planet have spotted it in puffs, suggesting a dynamic process is churning it out parts per billion.

NASA's space boffins were excited to reveal not one but two monumental discoveries during a live press conference on Thursday.

The most exciting news is that the changes definitely match the Martian seasons, hitting a peak at the end of summer in the northern hemisphere.

Over five years, Curiosity has used its Tunable Laser Spectrometer to measure methane in the atmosphere at the Gale crater. Michael Meyer, the lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program, said in the statement. "So way under the ground this methane is trapped".

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

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