NASA finds more evidence that Mars could have once supported life

08 June, 2018, 16:28 | Author: Courtney Reynolds
  • Curiosity tests a new way to drill on Mars

A NASA robot has found more building blocks for life on Mars, the most complex organic matter yet from 3.5 billion-year-old rocks on the surface of the red planet, the United States space agency said on Thursday.

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

NASA's Curiosity rover has found evidence of complex organic matter preserved in the topmost layers of the Martian surface, scientists report today in the journal Science.

That said, the agency hopes future missions to the red planet, NASA's Mars 2020 rover and ESA's ExoMars rover, could delve into these findings and reveal the complete history of our neighboring planet.

In a second, potentially more significant finding announced Thursday, scientists reported detection of a seasonal variation in methane levels in the martian atmosphere. "Short of taking a picture of a fossil in a rock on Mars, [finding life there] is extremely hard to do scientifically", says Chris Webster, a chemist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and lead author of the methane study.

NASA has good evidence that Gale Crater where Curiosity is rolling around used to be a lake.

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.

Inorganic carbon is carbon that is found in compounds that are completely unlike biological molecules.

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"These clathrates lock the methane inside a water-ice crystal structure and are incredibly stable for millions of years until environmental conditions change and suddenly they can release that gas", says Duffy.

Jen Eigenbrode, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said these findings "bode well" in the space agency's attempts to unlock the Red Planet's past and formation.

But life-hunting Mars missions are coming, and soon. The problem was that these organic molecules contained an unusual atom: chlorine.

Maybe even billions of years - the Gale crater, named after Australian astronomer Walter F. Gale, is up to 3.8 billion years old, and may have once held a lake. NASA's six-wheeled Curiosity rover drilled into the planet in late 2014 and early 2015. Curiosity sampled mudstone in the top 5 centimeters from the Mojave and Confidence Hills localities within Gale Crater. Methane levels reach 0.6 parts per billion during the summer, but that number is only one-third as high during the winter season. "Everything that was needed to support life was there". Those molecules are familiar building blocks for life here on Earth, including carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. "It probably indicates more active water in the subsurface than we understood", scientist Kirsten Siebach, Martian geologist at Rice University not involved with the studies, told Gizmodo. "So way under the ground this methane is trapped".

"Are there signs of life on Mars?" asked Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters.

"We don't know, but these results tell us we are on the right track"'.

"We have just satisfied a mission objective for Curiosity", says Jennifer Eigenbrode, study lead author and a member of the Mars Science Laboratory mission team. They're considered necessary for life to form, but there are plenty of places with lots of organic compounds but no life.

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