NASA finds ancient organic material, mysterious methane on Mars

Life on Mars? NASA’s Curiosity rover discovers ancient evidence on the red planet

NASA's Curiosity rover has discovered ancient organic molecules on Mars, embedded within sedimentary rocks that are billions of years old.

There have been some new scientific discoveries on the age-old question of whether there truly is life on Mars, and the upshot is, there very well could be - or at least, could have been.

Humayan is a professor of geochemistry at Florida State Univeristy and on staff at the FSU-headquartered National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.

The findings were published in the journal Science.

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 neighbor may have harbored life. For what was said detected molecule is unknown.

The data gathered by Curiosity reveal that billions of years ago there was a shallow lake of water inside the Gale Crater on Mars that contained all the ingredients necessary for life as we know it, including chemical building blocks and energy sources.

The search for life beyond Earth focuses on the discovery of organic compounds and molecules, although the latter can exist without life. 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.

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All these factors point to believe that Mars could harbour life on its surface. Jennifer Eigenbrode, an astrobiologist at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who led the organics study, said she's intrigued by the possibility that life might have existed and adapted on Mars.

"Are there signs of life on Mars?" said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program, at NASA Headquarters.

Launched in 2011, Curiosity was created to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. "We are on the right track!"

"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.

"When you work with something as insane as a rover on Mars, with the most complex instrument ever sent to space, it seems like we're doing what may have been perceived earlier as impossible", says lead author Jennifer Eigenbrode , a biogeochemist at NASA Goddard.

Also, thanks to the longevity of the Curiosity rover, scientists have been able to observe a "breathing" of methane in the Martian atmosphere, with the amount increasing in the summer and reducing in the winter. Kate told Live Science that it is a big deal to find organic compounds in rocks aged 3.5 billion years.

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