Science

NASA found organic molecules on Mars

NASA found organic molecules on Mars”

NASA's Curiosity rover has detected organic compounds on the surface of Mars which offers some of the strongest evidence yet that the Red Planet may once have harboured life.

But it is "consistent with the past presence of biology", said Ken Williford, an astrobiologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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

Launched in 2011, Curiosity was created to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. It also demonstrates that organic molecules can exist on Mars's surface for billions of years.

"It is not telling us that life was there, but it is saying that everything organisms really needed to live in that kind of environment, all of that was there".

"Curiosity" is a robotic rover exploring Gale Crater on Mars. The space agencies of Europe, Russia and many others, plan to drill deeper and more widely on the surface, which begs the question of what else they might find. And, given the intensity of the radiation bombarding the planet's surface, it wasn't clear whether any relics from that warm, wet period could still be preserved in mudstones on the lake's dried-up floor.

This low-angle self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the site from which it reached down to drill into a rock target called "Buckskin" on lower Mount Sharp.

There are some non-biological explanations for the detection - this combination of compounds has also been found in meteorites.

The search for life beyond Earth focuses on the discovery of organic compounds and molecules, although the latter can exist without life.

However, ten Kate says that it is not surprising to find organic matter on Mars because it can not be compared to items like pieces of flesh, dead cells or tufts of grass.

Scientists have been seeking organic molecules on Mars ever since the 1976 Viking landers.

In the second paper, scientists describe the discovery of seasonal variations in methane in the Martian atmosphere over the course of nearly three Mars years, which is almost six Earth years. The result of this finding could make for further discovery for future missions to ascertain the source of the methane.

Several spacecraft including Curiosity have detected whiffs of this gas that "defied explanation", Webster said.

The study, which has been in place for around six years (the equivalent of almost three martian years), shows that low levels of methane within the crater repeatedly peak in warm, summer months and drop in the winter every year. On Thursday scientists said the rover found potential building blocks of life in an ancient lakebed and confirmed seasonal increases in atmospheric methane. And even if the reservoir explanation is correct, it remains to be seen what's feeding them.

Water-rock chemistry might have generated the methane, but scientists can not rule out the possibility of biological origins. Billions of years ago, Mars had water on its surface, and the Gale Crater region on Mars had all the necessary elements that are necessary for the creation of biological life forms.



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