NASA Finds Concentrated Batch Of Organic Molecules On Mars

NASA conference Mars Curiosity Rover

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

Finding organic compounds - which are substances that contain carbon and are considered necessary components of life - in 3.5-billion-year-old rocks on Mars is a big deal, ten Kate told Live Science, and so is the discovery of the seasonal methane (CH4) variation in the atmosphere. If there was, then that life would have left behind organic molecules when it decayed.

"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. And if life does exist elsewhere, it may be very different or even form differently from how we understand life on Earth.

The team estimates the ancient sediments, where the complex organic molecules were found, were actually the remains of a vast lakebed that existed more than 3bn years ago.

The traces of methane on Mars are tantalizing to biologists eager for evidence of life. The molecules could be the remnants of past organisms, the result of chemical reactions with rocks or simply space debris.

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On 6 August 2012, the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite (1) arrived on Mars onboard the Curiosity rover.

From everything we can tell of the chemistry and the minerals deposited in the Gale crater where Curiosity is stationed, "we think it was a habitable environment", Jennifer Eigenbrode from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center told Gizmodo. She said the discoveries break down some of the strongest arguments put forward by life-on-Mars skeptics, herself included.

Scientists reported Thursday that NASA's Curiosity rover has found potential building blocks of life in an ancient Martian lake bed.

The press conference is set to kick off at 2 p.m. EDT today, and while NASA obviously hasn't revealed exactly what it has in store, there's a few things we do know.

Curiosity has also found increasing evidence for seasonal variation of methane on Mars - indicating the source of the gas is likely the planet itself, or possibly its subsurface water. Because that's what happens when you go digging around Mars.

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But National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists emphasized there could be nonbiological explanations for both discoveries made by the Curiosity rover at a site called Gale crater, leaving the issue of Martian life a tantalizing but unanswered question.

On Mars, organic molecules could have been produced by some form of either present or past lifeforms.

"That would be exciting because if that is done within two years, NASA can send a mission specifically to that place", he said.

Spikes and plumes of methane in Mars's thin atmosphere have been detected by several missions over more than two decades, but they have been frustrating to study, said Christopher Webster, who led the methane study. The findings could help to guide the search for ancient microbial life and improve our understanding of seasonal processes on Mars.

"We've considered three possible sources for the organics: geology, meteorites and biology", she said.

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