Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Science | By Michele Flores

Organic Matter Found On Mars, Nasa Announces

Organic Matter Found On Mars, Nasa Announces

However, the abundances of methane measured are greater than models predict should occur, meaning we still don't know exactly how they are produced.

Curiosity sampled sites by drilling five centimeters below the surface in the Gale crater, which is where the rover landed in 2012. The rover has also detected methane in the Martian atmosphere.

NASA has scheduled a live discussion for 2 p.m. ET focusing on "new science results" from the rover, although the nature of what has been found remains to be seen as no details will be made public before then. Meteorites are constant pummeling Mars, and many of them contain carbon.

In addition, NASA recorded methane spikes on the planet Mars, in a form that is repeating rather than random. "That doesn't mean life, but organic compounds are the building blocks of life", he added.

The methane could simply be the product of basic geological processes, but it's possible the gas has origins in biological sources.

That Mars possesses organic molecules is not surprising.

That stuff is thought to be spread throughout the solar system, she said. "And it makes us more confident that if biomarkers" - or direct evidence of biologic activity - "are there, we might find them". "It was a big surprise", says Caroline Freissinet, an astrobiologist and co-author on Curiosity's mudstone study at the Atmosphere, Media, Spatial Observations Laboratory (LATMOS) in France. Maybe there are subsurface Martian bacteria eating that methane, Tanya Harrison, director of research for Arizona State University's Space Technology and Science ("NewSpace") Initiative, told Gizmodo.

"With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington. To combat the contamination, the Curiosity team focused on finding more chlorine-containing organics, and limited subsequent SAM runs to temperatures between 200 and 400 degrees C. The 96-mile crater, named for Australian astronomer Walter F. Gale, was most likely formed by meteor impact between 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago.

According to NASA, billions of years ago a water lake inside Gale Crater held ingredients necessary for life, data from the rover reveals. The researchers suspect the thiophenes' carbon came from as-yet-unidentified larger organic molecules, which had been trapped and preserved inside the jarosite for perhaps billions of years.

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Overall, the latest discoveries bode well for future endeavours. Past detections have been so faint that they could be just contamination. Eigenbrode says the analyzed rocks came from the bottom of what was once a lake at a time when Mars was a much warmer, wetter place.

The Curiosity rover has lasted three times as long as it was meant to and is still going, which helped with the study of seasonal methane cycles.

In a second, potentially more significant finding announced Thursday, scientists reported detection of a seasonal variation in methane levels in the martian atmosphere.

A Nasa rover has detected a bonanza of organic compounds on the surface of the planet and seasonal fluctuations of atmospheric methane, in findings that mark some of the strongest evidence ever that Earth's neighbour may have harboured life.

The results also indicate organic carbon concentrations on the order of 10 parts per million or more. "If it doesn't repeat, you can't find out what it is". No one knows what's making this methane, but scientists speculate that it's released from underground pockets. One of their most hard tasks is to prove that the carbon they find is biogenic, and not produced through non-living, geological processes.

Scientists hope to further the search for signs of life on Mars with the European and Russian rover, ExoMars, scheduled to land in 2021.

"I don't believe there's life on Mars at the present", Freeman says, because Mars is very dry, very cold and lacks much of an atmosphere.

The other set of results announced today deals with the mysterious case of Mars's methane.

Several spacecraft including Curiosity have detected whiffs of this gas that "defied explanation", Webster said. Such incremental progress is the whole point of NASA's Mars exploration program, Freissinet notes. "It's step by step", she says.

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