NASA officials announce Mars Curiosity rover findings

NASA officials announce Mars Curiosity rover findings

The new findings - "tough" organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface, as well as seasonal variations in the levels of methane in the atmosphere - appear in the June 8 edition of the journal Science.

The vast majority of methane on Earth, at least, has a biological origin, so its presence on Mars is significant to the possibility of actually discovering life on Mars. Methane, found on Mars before in plumes or patches, has never been detected in instances that scientists had been able to see repeatedly.

The rover was able to heat the samples to between 932 and 1508 degrees Fahrenheit and study the organic molecules released through gas analysis.

NASA will use both these discoveries to inform the design of its upcoming Mars 2020 rover.

Regardless, the detection is a technical achievement, said Williford, because it demonstrates that organic molecules can persist near Mars's surface for billions of years. Much as a detective figures out whodunnit by filling in all the details of a crime first, astrobiologists set about piecing together a picture of the Martian environment to figure out if the planet could even support life, now or in the past. So mission scientists sent Curiosity on a four-mile journey to the base of Mount Sharp in hopes of finding more conclusive evidence buried in old lake sediments. Hell comes from Mars, NASA, and it's only been two years since we cleaned up the last incident of Mars Hell. Methane is another organic molecule. The term "organic" is ambiguous - we often take it to mean "life-related" but it doesn't have to mean that. However, whether such life ever existed on Mars remains the big unknown.

Inorganic carbon is carbon that is found in compounds that are completely unlike biological molecules.

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On top of that, after keeping close tabs on methane levels in the Martian atmosphere, scientists have finally confirmed something weird is definitely going on, and they think they know what's causing it.

Mars's Gale Crater, where Curiosity has been trolling around for the past six years, is a particularly interesting place to look for those molecules.

They don't exactly roll off the tongue, but researchers believe that these are fragments of larger molecules that were present on Mars billions of years ago.

MIT News checked in with SAM team member Roger Summons, the Schlumberger Professor of Geobiology at MIT, and a co-author on the Science paper, about what the team's findings might mean for the possibility of life on Mars. The Martian surface is bombarded with radiation that can degrade organic compounds, explains Eigenbrode. The host of the session, assistant director of science for communications in NASA's Planetary Science Division Michelle Thaller, began by clearing up any rumors that the agency would announce that they had found alien life. Kerogen is a name given to organic material that is present in rocks and in carbonaceous meteorites.

NASA actually isn't looking for life on Mars right now. Previously, some scientists have said it would be destroyed by the oxidation processes that are active at Mars' surface.

It "defines how questions will be asked and pursued in the next stage of Mars exploration", Anbar, who was not involved in the study, told AFP by email. Or it could be ancient, belched out billions of years ago by geologic or biological processes and then trapped in matrices of ice and rock that unfreeze when warmed by the sun.