Organic matter found on Mars, opening new chapter in search for life

Organic matter found on Mars, opening new chapter in search for life

What they found are organic molecules but not something in a molecular form that is important for life. "Organic molecules are usually composed of carbon atoms in rings or long chains, to which are attached other atoms of such elements as hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen". The host of the session, assistant director of science for communications in NASA's Planetary Science Division Michelle Thaller, began by clearing up any rumors that the agency would announce that they had found alien life.

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. "I'm confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries".

Both discoveries emerged from Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, a miniaturized chemistry lab and oven that roasts dollops of air, rock and soil to sniff out each sample's constituent molecules. But the organic molecules identified by the car-sized rover then were too few and ambiguous.

"What the organic detections in the rock do is to add to the story of habitability". If extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, that bar has most certainly not been met here. The Viking Project was the first U.S. mission to safely land spacecraft on the Martian surface, as well as send back images. On Earth, such carbon-rich compounds are one of life's cornerstones.

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

And while methane had previously been found in Mars' atmosphere in "large, unpredictable plumes", NASA said it has now found methane levels that follow seasonal trend changes with more methane appearing in warm summer months before dropping in the winter. And NASA didn't launch another mission to Mars for over a decade.

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

The term "organic" means something different to a chemist than it does to a produce manager at a grocery store.

While not direct evidence of life, the compounds drilled from Mars' Gale Crater are the most diverse array ever taken from the surface of the planet since the robotic vehicle landed in 2012, experts say. So they looked elsewhere.

Dr Webster is also awaiting results from the current ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) mission, which is orbiting the Red Planet, sniffing methane.

That Mars possesses organic molecules is not surprising. This could be a sign that there is a reservoir of methane somewhere under the surface that was generated by chemical reactions involving water or, possibly, by Martian microbes.

With future missions, scientists may be able to figure out whether or not the organic compounds are indeed biosignatures.

NASA says the Mars 2020 rover is made up of about 85 percent of heritage hardware from the Curiosity.

Now, the rover has seemingly made a new discovery which will be revealed this Thursday, according to the space agency. "But it doesn't tell us that life was there". "If you can do this on Mars, imagine what you can do with analytical facilities available to us on Earth", he says.

Potential contaminants were analyzed and accounted for, so the results are the most conclusive yet.

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