Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Research | By Francis Brooks

NASA's Curiosity Rover Finds Chemical Building Blocks For Life On Mars


'I'm confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet'.

"With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life", NASA science mission chief Thomas Zurbuchen told USA Today.

NASA's hyped-up announcement concerning new discoveries on Mars did not disappoint as the space agency reports it has found "ancient organic matter" and "mysterious methane" on the planet. In addition, some of the readings could have come from contamination that had tagged along from Earth; others could have been produced in combustion as the sample was heated, which may have been the case in an earlier detection of organics by Curiosity.

Another team of scientists, led by Christopher Webster from the California Institute of Technology, presented evidence that methane concentrations detected on Mars follow strong seasonal variations. After drilling, Curiosity heats the rock samples, releasing the compounds. "It tells us that this ancient environment on Mars could have supported life", Eigenbrode said. Mission scientists announced today in a paper published in the journal Science that Curiosity discovered a whole catalogue of preserved organic matter in the first rock layers that the rover checked there. The Martian surface is bombarded with radiation that can degrade organic compounds, explains Eigenbrode.

One thing is for sure, though - whatever we can figure out about the chemistry of Mars, it's nearly certainly going to add precious details to our understanding of life in the cosmos.

The rover was able to heat the samples to between 932 and 1508 degrees Fahrenheit and study the organic molecules released through gas analysis. What the study has done, though, is to propel the search for life on Mars higher up the list of worldwide space exploration priorities - giving space agencies ammunition to argue for a coordinated programme of missions to explore the Red Planet.

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

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Scientists hope to further the search for signs of life on Mars with the European and Russian rover, ExoMars, scheduled to land in 2021.

Over the years, scientists have amassed a number of clues that can help answer the question of Mars' habitability, including evidence of liquid water.

There's enough ambient carbon and hydrogen in the solar system that they react to form basic organic compounds pretty frequently, even without biology involved, ten Kate said.

A set of geological results recently delivered courtesy of Curiosity's drill bit provides a deeper understanding of the organic chemistry of the 300-million-year-old mudstone in two separate parts of Gale crater.

All of the outside sources I spoke with said it's important to be skeptical about claims of life, extinct or otherwise, on the Red Planet. And NASA didn't launch another mission to Mars for over a decade.

Excitingly, the material discovered on Mars is similar to terrestrial kerogen. For example, scientists want to know if it has "Mars quakes". "And then we went, 'oops, not only did we not find it, but we don't really know what we're looking for if it's not exactly like Earth.' And maybe that was not the best way to go about it".

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