Published: Sun, June 10, 2018
Science | By Michele Flores

NASA found organic molecules on Mars

NASA found organic molecules on Mars

A NASA robot has found more building blocks for life on Mars, the most complex organic matter yet from 3.5 billion-year-old rocks on the surface of the red planet, the U.S. space agency said on Thursday.

The organic matter was reportedly discovered by NASA's Curiosity rover buried and preserved in ancient sediments which form a massive lake on Mars some three billion years ago. The organic molecules preserved in 3 billion-year-old bedrock suggest conditions at Mars may have once been conducive to life.

It has been six years since the Mars rover Curiosity landed on the red planet, and now, the space vehicle has some news to share.

Additional data from the robotic probe confirms the detection of "seasonal patterns" in methane levels, NASA geophysicist Ashwin Vasvada said in the live-streamed announcement.

Organic molecules are mainly linked with biological life but under different conditions, they can also be formed due to non-biological processes.

The organic matter was found in pieces of solidified mud that was drilled out of the ground in Gale Crater on Mars by the Curiosity rover in 2015. It previously found hints of methane and organic compounds, but these findings are the best evidence yet.

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The third theory we've all been wanting to prove it's true is that methane could be created by life on Mars. On Thursday scientists said the rover found potential building blocks of life in an ancient lakebed and confirmed seasonal increases in atmospheric methane.

Additionally, the molecular observations by Curiosity do not reveal the specific source of the organic compounds in the Gale Crater. Sulfur may have helped protect the organics even when the rocks were exposed at the surface to radiation and bleach-like substances called perchlorates.

In addition to finding organic molecules in the rocks in Gale Crater, rover scientists are reporting another intriguing finding.

The discovery has been reported in the journal Science by NASA's Jennifer Eigenbrode and an worldwide team of scientists.

Again, while water-rock chemistry might have generated the methane, scientists can not rule out the possibility that the gas was produced by biological processes. However, "we're in a really good position to move forward looking for signs of life", says Jennifer Eigenbrode, NASA biogeochemist and lead author of the study published in the journal Science.

He and his colleagues think the methane is coming from underground. It also demonstrates that organic molecules can exist on Mars's surface for billions of years. "We need to go to places that we think are the most likely places to find it". So far, scientists have a few theories: methane may come from the planet itself, or from water under its surface.

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