New Discoveries from NASA - Was There Ever Life on Mars?

Curiosity: la Nasa dévoile ce que son rover a découvert sur Mars

Curiosity: la Nasa dévoile ce que son rover a découvert sur Mars

In two studies published Thursday in the journal Science, this new finding from NASA's Curiosity rover is paired with another discovery: The planet's methane - another organic molecule usually (but not always) produced by living beings - varies with the seasons.

The organic molecules preserved in 3.5 billion-year-old bedrock in Gale Crater-believed to once contain a shallow lake the size of Florida's Lake Okeechobee-suggest conditions back then may have been conducive to life. That leaves open the possibility that microorganisms once populated the red planet - and still might.

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. Researchers say they can't rule out a biological source.

This low-angle self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the site from which it reached down to drill into a rock target called "Buckskin" on lower Mount Sharp.

Carbon, which is the primary ingredient of coal was also found to be in roughly the same quantities as those observed in Martian meteorites found on Earth, and about 100 times greater in concentration than prior detections of organic carbon on Mars' surface.

In a second paper in Science, NASA's Christopher Webster and an worldwide team describe how they have used instruments on-board Curiosity to measure a seasonal variation in methane levels in the Martian atmosphere. The organic molecules he found in 2012 are comparable to those found by Curiosity.

"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.

Curiosity: la Nasa dévoile ce que son rover a découvert sur Mars
What has NASA actually found on Mars - and why is it important?

"The big takeaway is that we can find evidence".

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. The experiment involved scientists heating the rock fragments to more than 900 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by a close inspection of the molecules that wafted away.

Christopher Webster, an atmospheric science research fellow at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said it is possible existing microbes are contributing to the Martian atmospheric methane.

Webster theorizes the methane created either now or long ago is seeping from deep underground reservoirs up through cracks and fissures in the crust.

Organic compounds contain carbon and are vital life components.

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. If you're interested in being part of the conversation, or have a burning question that you'd like NASA to answer, you can submit inquiries using the hashtag #askNASA up until 1 p.m. this afternoon.

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