NASA to hold live discussion, announce new findings from Mars
08 June, 2018, 16:29 | Author: Sidney Guerrero
The unmanned Curiosity rover discovered the matter from 3.5 billion-year-old rocks on the surface of the Red Planet, scientists have revealed.
A NASA rover has detected a bonanza of organic compounds on the surface of Mars and seasonal fluctuations of atmospheric methane in findings released on Thursday that mark some of the strongest evidence ever that Earth's neighbour may have harboured life. The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) arm of the rover found seasonal fluctuations of methane gas in the planet's atmosphere as well as organic material from shallow-soil sample analyses from Gale crater, which was a lake some 3 billion years ago.
The data tells NASA Mars had all the right conditions for the building blocks of life to develop before the Red Planet lost most of its atmosphere.
There are organic molecules all over the place in our solar system - some were found by Rosetta on comet 67P - and they can be created by non-biological processes, but the findings serve as further encouragement to the researchers investigating our planetary neighbour.
But National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists emphasized there could be nonbiological explanations for both discoveries made by the Curiosity rover at a site called Gale crater, leaving the issue of Martian life a tantalizing but unanswered question. It has also found evidence in Mars' atmosphere, relating to the search for current life on the red planet. The findings could help to guide the search for ancient microbial life and improve our understanding of seasonal processes on Mars.
Inorganic carbon is carbon that is found in compounds that are completely unlike biological molecules.
By themselves, the new results aren't evidence for ancient life on Mars; non-living processes could have yielded identical molecules. However, "we're in a really good position to move forward looking for signs of life", saidJennifer Eigenbrode, a NASA biogeochemist and lead author of a study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Science. Some of our planet's earliest organisms may have been methanogens - microbes that eat organic molecules and exhale methane gas.
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 mudstone gradually formed billions of years ago from silt that accumulated at the bottom of the ancient lake.
It should take methane several hundred years to break apart in the presence of UV light, but that's not what happened on Mars.
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.
The most exciting news is that the changes definitely match the Martian seasons, hitting a peak at the end of summer in the northern hemisphere. Such incremental progress is the whole point of NASA's Mars exploration program, Freissinet notes. They therefore suggest that methane could be trapped at depth, gradually seeping to the surface.
"And maybe we can find something better preserved than that, that has signatures of life in it", she told AFP. The term "organic" is ambiguous - we often take it to mean "life-related" but it doesn't have to mean that.
"We don't know", Eigenbrode says.
On Mars, organic molecules could have been produced by some form of either present or past lifeforms.
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