August 21, 2018

NASA’s Curiosity rover finds organic molecules on Mars

08 June 2018, 02:20 | Edward Lowe

NASA earlier this week announced that the Curiosity rover had started analysing drilled samples on Mars in one of its onboard labs for the first time in more than a year.

"If there are no organics, we can pretty much forget about there being life or ever having been life on Mars", says Dr. Weintraub.

NASA's Jennifer Eigenbrode said in an interview this year, 'I look at organic molecules in rocks, ice and sediments and try to figure out where they came from and what happened to them over time.

"Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes".

In the first study, a team led by Christopher Webster, a chemist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, describes how Mars' atmosphere appears to have low levels of fluctuating methane. "Biological, geological and meteoritic sources are all possible", they wrote.

"Finding ancient organic molecules in the top five centimeters of rock that was deposited when Mars may have been habitable, bodes well for us to learn the story of organic molecules on Mars with future missions that will drill deeper", she said.

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"It's not that they haven't found a bit of organic matter before or even the methane in the's that they've now definitively shown this to be the case". "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".

The new findings are also detailed in two studies published Thursday in the journal Science.

On Mars, organic molecules could have been produced by some form of either present or past lifeforms. "Organic matter" in this context doesn't mean anything we'd recognize from our lives on Earth.

What they claimed they had discovered was a fossilised micro-organism in a Martian meteorite, which they argued was evidence that there has once been life on the Red Planet.

The space agency has not divulged specific information about what it may have found, leaving many to wonder what intriguing details will be learned about the red planet. What do we stand to gain from these missions anyway?

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

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Dr Webster said the data pointed to methane trapped in water-based crystals deep under the planet's surface, which slowly seep to the surface when temperatures rise.

There's enough ambient carbon and hydrogen in the solar system that they react to form basic organic compounds pretty frequently, even without biology involved, ten Kate said.

A French-built instrument revealed "several organic molecules and volatiles reminiscent of organic-rich sedimentary rock found on Earth, including: thiophene, 2- and 3-methylthiophenes, methanethiol, and dimethylsulfide", said the Science report.

The discovery is not a direct evidence of life. But they could also be the result of abiotic chemical reactions on the surface of the planet.

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) spacecraft effectively ruled out cosmic origins following its analysis of the dust left after a close encounter with the comet Siding Spring in 2014.

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