Organic Matter Found On Mars, Nasa Announces

Gwen Vasquez
June 8, 2018

While the new results are far from a confirmation of life on Mars, scientists believe they support earlier hypotheses that the Red Planet was once clement and habitable for microbial life. The 2020 rover will include an advanced spectrometer to scan for organic molecules.

NASA is to announce new findings from Curiosity in a conference streamed live worldwide on Thursday.

Biogeochemist and geologist Jen Eigenbrode of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is lead author of one of the two new Science papers, the one related to organic molecules. Mars2020 will shed light on the organic molecules-and prepare a sample that some future mission could bring back to Earth.

Launched in 2011, Curiosity was created to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes.

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. Hell comes from Mars, NASA, and it's only been two years since we cleaned up the last incident of Mars Hell.

Here on Earth, 95 percent of all methane molecules are the product of living chemistry. On Earth, such carbon-rich compounds are one of life's cornerstones.

For the first time, scientists say they have clear evidence that the chemical building blocks of life exist on Mars.

Inorganic carbon is carbon that is found in compounds that are completely unlike biological molecules.

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

Arriving at Mars in 2012 with a drill and its own onboard labs, Curiosity confirmed the presence of organics in rocks in 2013, but the molecules weren't exactly what scientists expected. The rover has not found evidence of life itself. The Wikipedia article on "organic matter" makes the point: "Organic molecules can also be made by chemical reactions that don't involve life".

The sediments, analysed by the SAM instrument on Curiosity, come from just below the surface, where they have been shielded from most of the UV radiation that would break down organic molecules exposed on the surface. Yet when NASA's twin Viking probes landed on Mars in 1976, their studies suggested something startling: Martian soil, it seemed, contained less carbon than lifeless lunar rocks. What the study has done, though, is to propel the search for life on Mars higher up the list of global space exploration priorities - giving space agencies ammunition to argue for a coordinated programme of missions to explore the Red Planet.

But the scientists can not say what the larger molecules were or how they formed.

The new results represent the longest systematic record of atmospheric methane, with measurements taken regularly over five years.

"The incredible consistency of the results makes me think we have a slam-dunk signal for organics on Mars".

"I think part of the Mars community is frustrated with these incremental advances", she says, so there's a push to go look for life directly again. The organic compounds aren't even the first molecules of their kind found on Mars, though they are the oldest.

"People have been wondering about whether there might be life on Mars forever and finally ... they've done all the tests they've modified everything to be able to show that in fact there's organic matter on Mars".

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