NASA Curiosity rover hits organic pay dirt on Mars

Mars Curiosity rover selfie

NASA Curiosity rover hits organic pay dirt on Mars

What they can't say yet is whether there is, or ever was, life on the Red Planet.

The Mars 2020 rover won't represent the first jump in camera improvement as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers had 10 each, and the Curiosity rover had 17.

I asked everyone I spoke with if they thought there was life on Mars, and the consensus was maybe, maybe not.

One thing is for sure, though - whatever we can figure out about the chemistry of Mars, it's nearly certainly going to add precious details to our understanding of life in the cosmos.

NASA's hyped-up announcement concerning new discoveries on Mars did not disappoint as the space agency reports it has found "ancient organic matter" and "mysterious methane" on the planet. Organic matter can be one of several things: a record detailing ancient life, a food source for life or something that exists in the place of life. "There were signals there that were telling us that we had detected certain types of organic molecules", she says. It means that, one day, there is potential for more sophisticated instrumentation to detect a wider range of compounds in Mars samples, including the sorts of molecules made by living organisms, such as lipids, amino acids, sugars, or even nucleobases. Then the scientists sifted through the results to figure out what might be genuine Martian organics.

The results revealed a wealth of organics, Eigenbrode said - including some that had carbons linked in ring structures (such as benzenes) and others that include carbon chains (such as propane).

The amount of methane peaked at the end of summer in the northern hemisphere at about 2.7 times the level of the lowest seasonal amount. Chris Webster of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is lead author of the second paper, relating to the atmospheric methane.

"This is all possible because of Curiosity's longevity". The long duration has allowed us to see the patterns in this seasonable 'breathing'. But the origin of methane on Mars has always been debated.

A seasonal change in methane levels is exciting, he said, because 95 percent of the methane observed on Earth is the result of biology. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Regardless, the detection is a technical achievement, said Williford, because it demonstrates that organic molecules can persist near Mars's surface for billions of years.

Nasa's Curiosity rover has discovered organic matter on Mars, the agency has announced in a press conference. This mudstone gradually formed billions of years ago from silt that accumulated at the bottom of the ancient lake.

On Mars, organic molecules could have been produced by some form of either present or past lifeforms. Some of these fragments contain sulfur, which could have helped preserve them in the same way sulfur is used to make auto tires more durable, according to Eigenbrode. 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.

The rock fragments were heated to more than 900 degrees Fahrenheit, and the rover's instruments looked at the molecules that wafted away at the high temperatures.

The findings were also remarkable in that they showed that organic material can be preserved for billions of years on the harsh Martian surface.

'I'm confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet'.

A NASA rover has detected a bonanza of organic compounds on the surface of Mars and seasonal fluctuations of atmospheric methane in findings released on Thursday that mark some of the strongest evidence ever that Earth's neighbour may have harboured life. This is the most compelling evidence yet that this dry planet once held lakes filled with carbon-based compounds capable of sustaining life.

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