Mars Curiosity Rover Found Ancient Organic Material and 'Mysterious' Methane, NASA Announces

NASA news conference Mars announcement

But finding a trove of organic molecules on Mars is a big breakthrough for astrobiology, as organic molecules could be food for microbes, even if it doesn't represent life itself.

There is a silver lining: as we mention above and NASA was quick to point out, "while commonly associated with life, organic molecules also can be created by non-biological processes and are not necessarily indicators of life", which is encouraging. In chemistry, almost all molecules containing both carbon and hydrogen are organic compounds.

Although tantalizing, the two findings remain far from definitive when it comes to past or present life on Mars.

'I'm confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet'. Curiosity can only drill a few centimeters into Martian rocks, and it lacks the advanced tools necessary to search for more complex markers of life.

The rover was able to heat the samples to between 932 and 1508 degrees Fahrenheit and study the organic molecules released through gas analysis. The organic molecules and volatiles, comparable to samples of sedimentary rock rich in organics on Earth, included thiopene, methylthiophenes methanethiol and dimethylsulfide. Scientists released new findings on Thursday providing more evidence that suggest Mars was once a habitable planet.

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NASA has been searching for confirmation of organic molecules on Mars since the 1970s when it sent the Viking landers to the planet. "And then we went, 'oops, not only did we not find it, but we don't really know what we're looking for if it's not exactly like Earth.' And maybe that was not the best way to go about it". This is the most compelling evidence yet that this dry planet once held lakes filled with carbon-based compounds capable of sustaining life. Samples of ancient mudstone yielded a diversity of organic molecules in SAM's oven-and in a separate study, five years' worth of atmospheric samples gathered by SAM tracked fluctuating levels of methane that peaked in the Martian summer.

NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover snaps a self-portrait at a site called Vera Rubin Ridge on the Martian surface in February 2018 in this image obtained on June 7, 2018.

For the first time, scientists say they have clear evidence that the chemical building blocks of life exist on Mars.

Living things produce a lot of organic molecules. More powerful spacecraft are needed to prove whether life ever existed on Mars.

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

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The facility is hosting 10 university teams Thursday for an exercise on extracting water from simulated Martian subsurface ice. The crystals may have obtained methane from ancient forms of life.

"[Curiosity's] molecular observations do not clearly reveal the source of the organic matter in [Gale Crater]".

Furthermore, Pontefract says, ExoMars and NASA's Mars 2020 mission will use tools that take a different approach to analyze organics. It follows the discovery of organic molecules in 2014 that appeared to be much more sparse.

Both the methane gas and soil compounds are organic matter. "But it doesn't tell us that life was there". And, she says, it gives us an idea where to look.

It "defines how questions will be asked and pursued in the next stage of Mars exploration", Anbar, who was not involved in the study, told AFP by email.

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