NASA finds organic matter on Mars | Science&Technology

NASA finds organic matter on Mars | Science&Technology

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 USA space agency said on Thursday.

But it is "consistent with the past presence of biology", said Ken Williford, an astrobiologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. According to scientists, this is the best piece of evidence that have been found so far.

NASA scientists reported Thursday the Mars rover Curiosity has found potential building blocks of life in an ancient lakebed. The result could pave the way for future missions to pin down the methane's source.

However, all this does not prove that there is or ever was life on Mars. Were they remnants of the planet's past organisms?

Mars's Gale Crater, where Curiosity has been trolling around for the past six years, is a particularly interesting place to look for those molecules.

NASA scientist Chris Webster added that there is water on the martian surface and it has been present for "a very long time", meaning that it could make the planet a "habitable environment". And, given the intensity of the radiation bombarding the planet's surface, it wasn't clear whether any relics from that warm, wet period could still be preserved in mudstones on the lake's dried-up floor. But possibly the atmosphere of Mars was able to hold the water and liquid matter on its surface.

While the discovery is one of the most tantalising searches yet to indicate that biological processes were (or maybe still are) responsible for these organic materials, it is not definitive proof of life on Mars. About 95 percent of the methane in Earth's atmosphere is produced from biological activity, though the scientists said it is too soon to know if the Martian methane also is related to life.

NASA's Mars Helicopter, a small, autonomous rotorcraft, which will travel with the agency's Mars 2020 rover, now scheduled to launch in July 2020, to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet, is shown in this artist rendition from NASA/JPL in Pasadena, California, U.S. May 11, 2018.

The measurements made by Curiosity in the Gale crater have discovered that the atmospheric levels of methane in the red planet follow a seasonal cycle and have confirmed that it is higher around the equinoxes (spring and autumn) and less at the solstices.

Additionally, the molecular observations by Curiosity do not reveal the specific source of the organic compounds in the Gale Crater. The study, which ran for three Martian years (about five Earth years), found that methane concentration in the summer was almost three times higher than in the winter.

Curiosity observed that the amount of methane gas in the planet's atmosphere increased in the summer and decreased in the summer. And even if the reservoir explanation is correct, it remains to be seen what's feeding them.

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.

We certainly know that ancient lakes used to form part of the Mars landscape, and these carbon components found are the strongest evidence yet that the lakes were rife with carbon compounds, which would imply lifeforms.

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