Mars Has Ancient Organic Material, Mysterious Methane

Curiosity tests a new way to drill on Mars

Big news from Mars today: NASA's Curiosity rover found ancient traces of organic matter embedded in Martian rocks and detected a "seasonal variation" in atmospheric methane on the Red Planet - an annual pulse of the gas, nearly as if something out there were breathing.

The organic molecules preserved in 3.5 billion-year-old bedrock in Gale Crater - believed to once contain a shallow lake around the size of Lake Ontario - suggest conditions back then may have been conducive to life. "I'm confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries".

The Curiosity rover, launched in 2011 with about $2.5 billion worth of scientific equipment with the intent of exploring and analyzing Mars' Gale Crater.

Both studies resulting from the mission were published online today in the journal Science.

Paul Mahaffy, director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, explained that the objective of the mission was to explore the possibility of sustaining life on Mars.

While we know that Mars was habitable in the past, the case demonstrates just how hard it will be to ever prove the existence of past life on its surface. Eigenbrode clarified, however, that the matter was not evidence of life as non-biological entities can create organic molecules.

'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.

"This is the first time we've seen something repeatable in the methane story, so it offers us a handle in understanding it", said Chris Webster of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, lead author of the second paper.

Nasa has found traces of organic molecules buried in the bed of an ancient lake on Mars.

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It had to stop analysing samples on the Red Planet after a mechanical problem took the rover drill offline in December 2016.

These molecules appeared to come from a much larger molecule, and contained high levels of sulfur.

"The question of whether life might have originated or existed on Mars is a lot more opportune now that we know that organic molecules were present on its surface at the time", wrote Utrecht University astrobiologist Inge Loes ten Kate of the Netherlands. This is all written down: the Union Aerospace Corporation went digging around Mars-quite possibly lured in by the discovery of ancient organic material-one thing led to another, and they opened a portal to Hell.

"We don't know if that methane is ancient or modern", Webster said in a press conference.

"The idea that best fits our data is the idea of sub-surface storage", he said.

"That is a good place for life to have lived if it ever existed on Mars", she said.

On Mars, organic molecules could have been produced by some form of either present or past lifeforms.

NASA also has another rover in the works with its Mars 2020 mission, which plans to drill cores and set them aside for a possible future pickup and return to Earth.

If Viking was phase one of our search for life on Mars, and the methodical quest for clues of habitability that followed was phase two, says Grinspoon, "this is the successful culmination of phase two".

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