Organic molecules on Mars

NASA conference Mars Curiosity Rover

NASA conference Mars Curiosity Rover

Eigenbrode said that regardless where the organic material came from, its existence means that any microbial life found on Mars would have had a food source. It previously found hints of methane and organic compounds, but these findings are the best evidence yet.

The discovery leaves open the possibility that microorganisms once populated the red planet - and still might.

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'With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life, ' said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at Nasa headquarters.

If Viking was phase one of our search for life on Mars, and the methodical quest for clues of habitability that followed was phase two, says Grinspoon, "this is the successful culmination of phase two". The crystals may have obtained methane from ancient forms of life.

A self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. Much as a detective figures out whodunnit by filling in all the details of a crime first, astrobiologists set about piecing together a picture of the Martian environment to figure out if the planet could even support life, now or in the past. This new discovery builds on the inventory of molecules detected in the ancient lake sediments on Mars and helps explains why they were preserved.

"The big takeaway is that we can find evidence".

"There's three possible sources for the organic material", said astrobiologist Jennifer Eigenbrode of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

The Mars of today is a barren and inhospitable place for living things, but scientists think it may have been very different in the past. "We also don't know if that methane was created from rock chemistry or it was created by microbes".




Dr Webster is also awaiting results from the current ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) mission, which is orbiting the Red Planet, sniffing methane. Certainly, there are geological processes that could make methane levels change over the Martian year, she said.

"The seasonal methane peaks in the summer of the Martian northern hemisphere so the source has to be affected by those increasing temperatures from greater sunlight", astrophysicist Alan Duffy from Swinburne University in Australia told ScienceAlert. The magnitude of these seasonal peaks - by a factor of three - was far more than scientists expected. "We thought Mars was dead internally", Harrison said. "It's tripling ... that's a huge, huge difference".

In two studies published today (June 7) in the journal Science, researchers from NASA reported the largest amount of organic matter on Mars ever obtained by the Curiosity rover. The diameter is slightly smaller than a USA dime.

Organic matter has been found on Mars in soil samples taken from 3 billion-year-old mudstone in the Gale crater by the Curiosity rover, NASA announced Thursday. They could even have been transported from elsewhere in the solar system.

They hit pay dirt about 6.5 kilometres away, at two sites near Pahrump Hills at the base of Mt Sharp.

As with methane, there could well be non-biological explanations for the presence of carbon-containing molecules on Mars, such as geologic processes or impacts by asteroids, comet, meteors and interplanetary dust.

Knowing that these molecules and compounds were present, then, gives new strength to the idea that life originated or existed on Mars and that more work by the Martian rovers can uncover the past.

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