NASA’s Mars Rover Has Found Organic Matter On The Planet's Surface

Rosemary Collier
June 8, 2018

Methane in the martian atmosphere has been detected before, but only in isolated patches or plumes of higher concentrations, not in any repeatable pattern. Though those molecules are commonly associated with organic life, NASA conceded that they could have been produced through other means.

Methane is considered the simplest organic molecule. Now with these new results, what does this all say about the possibility that there is, or was life on Mars?

Here on Earth, 95 percent of all methane molecules are the product of living chemistry. In a companion article, an outside expert describes the findings as "breakthroughs in astrobiology". Organic material can be produced without life.

"The detection of organic molecules and methane on Mars has far-ranging implications in light of potential past life on Mars", said Kate.

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NASA earlier this week announced that the Curiosity rover had started analysing drilled samples on Mars in one of its onboard labs for the first time in more than a year.

"The big takeaway is that we can find evidence". In 2020, NASA plans to launch a rover that will seek out organics and search for chemical signatures of life in ancient Red Planet rocks.

In addition to finding these organic molecules, Curiosity was also able to make a major new discovery surrounding Mars' atmosphere. The Viking Project was the first USA mission to safely land spacecraft on the Martian surface, as well as send back images.

Since Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012, the rover has been exploring Gale Crater, a massive impact crater roughly the size of CT and Rhode Island, for geological and chemical evidence of the chemical elements and other conditions necessary to sustain life. They thought mudstone rocks, formed from silt accumulated at the bottom of the ancient lake, might hold some clues and analyzed the powdered samples from Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars instrument suite. The space agency already has its eyes on the future as the Mars 2020 Rover has been called a "souped-up science machine" that will expand upon Curiosity's findings. "There are locations, especially subsurface, where organic molecules are well-preserved". Drilling beneath the surface, rather than sampling what was on top like Viking did, also helped.

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Then she looked at the analyzer results again. The Martian surface is bombarded with radiation that can degrade organic compounds, explains Eigenbrode.

In 2013, it confirmed organic compounds in rocks in a deep part of the crater called Yellowknife Bay, said Jennifer Eigenbrode, who led the organic molecule study published in Science.

"What the organic detections in the rock do is to add to the story of habitability".

Curiosity has detected organics embedded in the sediments of the "Pahrump Hills" area of Gale Crater. With five years of data from a single location, they now have answers. They therefore suggest that methane could be trapped at depth, gradually seeping to the surface. But the origin of methane on Mars has always been debated. That could even be happening beneath the surface now, the researchers said. The rover has returned a lot of fascinating science, but its latest discovery offers the best evidence yet for life on Mars. "Organic matter" includes a whole host of compounds with carbon atoms in them. But they could also be the result of abiotic chemical reactions on the surface of the planet.

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For the first time, scientists say they have clear evidence that the chemical building blocks of life exist on Mars.

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