Curiosity has discovered new "tough" organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks on Mars, increasing the chances that the record of habitability and potential life could have been preserved on the Red Planet, despite extremely harsh conditions on the surface that can easily break down organic molecules.
Earlier research has led scientists to believe that liquid water pooled on the ancient surface of Mars, meaning that Earth's planetary neighbor had some very similar ingredients for life billions of years ago.
On June 7, 2018, NASA released their new findings of the red planet, Mars.
The breakthrough discovery was made with the help of NASA's Curiosity rover, which was charged with a mission to explore the Gale Crater and Martian geology and climate.
While commonly associated with life, organic molecules also can be created by non-biological processes and are not necessarily indicators of life. After drilling, Curiosity heats the rock samples, releasing the compounds.
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"While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet's surface and subsurface", NASA said in the announcement.
More powerful spacecraft are needed to prove whether life ever existed on Mars. Also opening was the data about seasonal fluctuations in the level of methane in the atmosphere.
"There are active processes happening in the Martian subsurface today, which could include heated reactions between water and rocks, possible biological activity, or some other mechanism", Siebach noted.
"What this new study is showing in some detail is the discovery of complex and diverse organic compounds in the sediments".
"Are there signs of life on Mars?" said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program, at NASA Headquarters.
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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.
He and his colleagues think the methane is coming from underground.
"We were kind of shocked to see that with the seasons, the signal changes by a factor of three, which is a huge change and completely unexpected", says Chris Webster, a rover scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
As with methane, there could well be nonbiological explanations for the presence of carbon-containing molecules on Mars, such as geologic processes or impacts by asteroids, comet, meteors and interplanetary dust.
In any case, however, the molecules may provide key information to scientists in their continuing search for life on Mars, since "All life that we know of is based on organic molecules", Eigenbrode explained. "We need to go to places that we think are the most likely places to find it".
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