Tuesday, 18 September, 2018


Scientists found loads more molecules associated with life on Mars

Kristine Garrett | 08 June, 2018, 04:13

Eigenbrode said that regardless where the organic material came from, its existence means that any microbial life found on Mars would have had a food source.

"Although the surface of Mars is inhospitable today, there is clear evidence that in the distant past, the Martian climate allowed liquid water - an essential ingredient for life as we know it - to pool at the surface", NASA reports.

On Mars, organic molecules could have been produced by some form of either present or past lifeforms. "The chances of being able to find signs of ancient life with future missions, if life ever was present, just went up", said Curiosity's project scientist, Ashwin Vasavada. "And what it does, it gives us a key to unlocking the mysteries associated with Mars methane because now we have something to test our models and our understanding against".

The discoveries were found using the US space agency's Curiosity Mars Rover, which has been studying the Red Planet's surface since it first landed in 2012.

Some sort of biology can't be ruled out, of course, but any kind of complex organic chemistry would still tell us something about how life arose on Earth.

No, NASA hasn't discovered life on Mars yet-but a new result makes it seem like maybe, at some point in the planet's history, the conditions were ripe for some extraterrestrial beings.

The samples were drilled from the base of Mount Sharp, inside a basin called Gale Crater.

The case for past habitability on the Red Planet is bolstered by the discovery of preserved organic compounds revealed today, as they are as old as the around 3.5 billion year old sedimentary rocks in which they were found.

The discovery leaves open the possibility that microorganisms once populated the red planet - and still might.

.

In addition to finding organic molecules in the rocks in Gale Crater, rover scientists are reporting another intriguing finding. The rock samples were analyzed by SAM, which uses an oven to heat the samples (in excess of 900 degrees Fahrenheit, or 500 degrees Celsius) to release organic molecules from the powdered rock. And the high amount of sulfur in the samples is most likely how they've lasted so long, the researchers said.

"There's three possible sources for the organic material", said astrobiologist Jennifer Eigenbrode of Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

Although there is not enough information to know whether the carbon molecules were created by biological or non-biological processes, it is possible that they could be a source of methane, Dr Eigenbrode said. The timing of the pulses provides an important clue. This new discovery builds on the inventory of molecules detected in the ancient lake sediments on Mars and helps explains why they were preserved.

"If there are no organics, we can pretty much forget about there being life or ever having been life on Mars", says Dr. Weintraub.

"The idea that best fits our data is the idea of sub-surface storage", he said. But they could also be the result of abiotic chemical reactions on the surface of the planet.

This work was funded by NASA's Mars Exploration Program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in Washington.

"We don't know if that methane is ancient or modern", Webster said in a press conference.

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