Tuesday, 23 October, 2018

What has NASA actually found on Mars - and why is it important?

NASA mars curiosity rover Life on Mars? NASA’s Curiosity rover discovers ancient evidence on the red planet
Cary Marshall | 10 June, 2018, 21:26

NASA's Curiosity rover has discovered ancient organic molecules on Mars, embedded within sedimentary rocks that are billions of years old.

"That the Curiosity rover recovered organics from a drilled mudstone sample is a game changer for Mars life studies".

While the presence of these molecules does not prove that life once existed on the red planet, the discovery suggests that conditions on Mars could have been like those here on Earth when life first emerged more than 3 bn years ago. Coupled with new evidence of seasonal methane variations in the martian atmosphere, these new findings are an hopeful indicator that life might have once survived on the Red Planet.

The rover has also discovered traces of methane in Mars' atmosphere, which researchers reported in an additional paper in Science. Organic compounds are commonly associated with life, although they can be created by non-biological processes as well, processes referred to as abiotic organic chemistry.

"When you work with something as insane as a rover on Mars, with the most complex instrument ever sent to space, it seems like we're doing what may have been perceived earlier as impossible", says lead author Jennifer Eigenbrode , a biogeochemist at NASA Goddard.

We certainly know that ancient lakes used to form part of the Mars landscape, and these carbon components found are the strongest evidence yet that the lakes were rife with carbon compounds, which would imply lifeforms.

More news: Dead or Alive 6 coming in 2019

"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 that time", Kate said. "That gives me great hope because we can perhaps get past these surface environments that are so harsh and maybe [go] a little deeper and find better-preserved materials". However, "we're in a really good position to move forward looking for signs of life", said Jennifer Eigenbrode, a NASA biogeochemist and lead author of a study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

However, ten Kate says that it is not surprising to find organic matter on Mars because it can not be compared to items like pieces of flesh, dead cells or tufts of grass.

The discovery has been reported in the journal Science by NASA's Jennifer Eigenbrode and an global team of scientists.

Jen Eigenbrode, the research scientist at Goddard who investigates gases and other organic molecules.

"We have no proof that the methane is formed biologically, but we can not rule it out, even with this new data set", Webster said. This indicates that back then, favorable conditions on Mars might have allowed life to emerge and populate the planet. "We need to go to places that we think are the most likely places to find it".

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