Thursday, 16 August, 2018


More signs of past - and possibly present - habitability of Mars

Mars Curiosity rover selfie More signs of past - and possibly present - habitability of Mars
Kristine Garrett | 08 June, 2018, 09:12

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.

"Even nowadays on Earth, we see a large influx of extraterrestrial [organic] material in the form of interplanetary dust and meteorites", ten Kate said. What do we stand to gain from these missions anyway?

In four locations, including the spot nicknamed Mojave (pictured here), the Curiosity rover discovered thiophenes (molecules that include a ring of carbon and sulphur atoms) and other substances that on Earth can be linked to biological activity.

NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover snaps a self-portrait at a site called Vera Rubin Ridge on the Martian surface in February 2018 in this image obtained on June 7, 2018.

Ms Campbell said if life did produce the organic molecules it was on the "simpler end of the scale".

The unmanned Curiosity rover has also found increasing evidence for seasonal variations of methane on Mars, indicating the source of the gas is likely the planet itself, or possibly its subsurface water. What is needed to find more clues is a mission to Mars with a deep drill.

"And maybe we can find something better preserved than that, that has signatures of life in it", she told AFP. The organic molecules and volatiles, comparable to samples of sedimentary rock rich in organics on Earth, included thiopene, methylthiophenes methanethiol and dimethylsulfide.

On Mars, organic molecules could have been produced by some form of either present or past lifeforms. But scientists revealed tantalizing hints about present-day Mars today, too.

The other paper in Science reported on new details in the search for the source of methane on Mars, which has wide spikes and dips according to the seasons.

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.

The discovery positions scientists to begin searching for direct evidence of past life on Mars and bolsters the case for returning rock samples from the planet, an effort that begins with the Mars 2020 rover. They could even have been transported from elsewhere in the solar system.

That Mars possesses organic molecules is not surprising. Combined with high-energy ultraviolet light and cosmic rays streaming in from space, perchlorates would destroy any organic material on the surface, leaving little to be seen by carbon-seeking landers and rovers.

NASA says the Mars 2020 rover is made up of about 85 percent of heritage hardware from the Curiosity. It follows the discovery of organic molecules in 2014 that appeared to be much more sparse.

Dr Webster said the difference was much larger than what you would expect if the methane was produced by the breakdown of organic matter from space. This new discovery of old organics strengthens that possibility and offers new insights into how things preserve in Mars rock, Grinspoon says. "I think we're moving toward extant [the opposite of extinct] life detection again".

"I'm equally as fascinated by the idea that life never got started on Mars in the first place".

"Once it's on the surface, the temperature on the surface regulates the way in which it holds on to the methane through 'stickiness, ' or surface adsorption as we call it", he says.

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