Science

NASA finds ‘ancient organic material’ on Mars, continues search despite Doom’s warnings

NASA finds ‘ancient organic material’ on Mars, continues search despite Doom’s warnings

Over almost six years roaming the surface of Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover has detected organic molecules that offer a taste of what an ancient life-friendly Red Planet might have looked like.

The space agency announced Thursday that its Curiosity rover had uncovered "tough" organic molecules preserved in three-billion-year-old rocks in the planet's Gale Crater, which is believed to have once contained a shallow lake.

A second analysis by SAM found evidence of larger organic compounds five centimeters (two inches) below the surface of Mars at the site of a lake that dried up billions of years ago. That leaves open the possibility that microorganisms once populated the red planet - and still might.

Although there is not enough information to know whether the carbon molecules were created by biological or non-biological processes, it is possible that they could be a source of methane, Dr Eigenbrode said.

The scientists hope to find better preserved organic compounds with Curiosity or other rovers that would allow them to check for chemical signatures of life.

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. Mars2020 will shed light on the organic molecules-and prepare a sample that some future mission could bring back to Earth.

The other set of results announced today deals with the mysterious case of Mars's methane. "If you explore both of those paths forward, it's astounding", Eigenbrode said. Methane is another organic molecule. Still, this discovery is very encouraging in the context of what we know about Mars in the distant past. It could be. Organic molecules are the building blocks of all known forms of life.

The facility is hosting 10 university teams Thursday for an exercise on extracting water from simulated Martian subsurface ice.




"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.

Christopher Webster, an atmospheric science research fellow at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said it is possible existing microbes are contributing to the Martian atmospheric methane. Occasionally, rocks can make produce them on their own through geological processes, and meteorites can also bring them from neighboring planets.

The Curiosity rover has lasted three times as long as it was meant to and is still going, which helped with the study of seasonal methane cycles. What the authors have found is a systematic variation in methane concentration with season, with the highest concentrations occurring at the Gale Crater towards the end of the northern summer.

In 2013, SAM detected some organic molecules containing chlorine in rocks at the deepest point in the crater.

"That would be exciting because if that is done within two years, NASA can send a mission specifically to that place", he said. "So way under the ground this methane is trapped".

"We have greatly expanded our search for organic compounds, which is fundamental in the search for life", said Paul Mahaffy, study author and director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Ever since the twin Viking landers touched down in 1976, scientists have hunted for signs of organic molecules on Mars.


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