What has Nasa found on Mars? Alien life? Watch announcement livestream here

What has Nasa found on Mars? Alien life? Watch announcement livestream here

In the first study, a team led by Christopher Webster, a chemist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, describes how Mars' atmosphere appears to have low levels of fluctuating methane.

NASA's Jennifer Eigenbrode said in an interview this year, 'I look at organic molecules in rocks, ice and sediments and try to figure out where they came from and what happened to them over time.

"Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes".

No matter its goal, these work as "chemical clues" for researchers about Mars.

SAM measured small organic molecules that came off the mudstone sample - fragments of larger organic molecules that don't vaporize easily. The crystals may have obtained methane from ancient forms of life.

Finding methane in the atmosphere and ancient carbon preserved on the surface gives scientists confidence that NASA's Mars 2020 rover and ESA's (European Space Agency's) ExoMars rover will find even more organics, both on the surface and in the shallow subsurface. Those detections either caused debate or lacked the context for understanding, the researchers said.

"With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington.

Has NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover found something important on the surface of the Red Planet - perhaps even traces of life? "The first one would be life, which we don't know about".

According to NASA, billions of years ago a water lake inside Gale Crater held ingredients necessary for life, data from the rover reveals. It likely held a lake, and now includes a mountain. "What they show is that organics were present early on in Mars". That's not to say there are no non-biological sources, but on our world they're swamped by cow farts and belching bacteria. Drilling beneath the surface, rather than sampling what was on top like Viking did, also helped.

The results also indicate organic carbon concentrations on the order of 10 parts per million or more.

While it could be produced by microorganisms under the surface of Mars, it could also be produced by non-biological processes such as chemical reactions in rocks, or the breakdown of organic matter in dust delivered by comets or meteors, by UV radiation.

Over five years, Curiosity has used its Tunable Laser Spectrometer to measure methane in the atmosphere at the Gale crater.

"As temperatures change from winter to summer, the methane changes greatly because as the surface gets a little bit warmer it releases a lot more methane", he said.

Methane is a strong greenhouse gas, and it could have supported a climate that sustained lakes on Mars. "To do that you either have to find an outcrop at the surface that has been recently exposed ... or you have to drill deep", she said. Scientists released new findings on Thursday providing more evidence that suggest Mars was once a habitable planet.

The scientists hope to find better preserved organic compounds with Curiosity or other rovers that would allow them to check for chemical signatures of life.

More powerful spacecraft are needed to prove whether life ever existed on Mars.

NASA's InSight Lander, launched on May 5, will land on Mars on November 26.

"That would be exciting because if that is done within two years, NASA can send a mission specifically to that place", he said. For example, scientists want to know if it has "Mars quakes".

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