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

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

A NASA robot has detected more building blocks for life on Mars - the most complex organic matter yet - from 3.5 billion-year-old rocks on the surface of the Red Planet, scientists said Thursday.

While Curiosity encountered organic carbon on the planet's surface back in 2012 and again in 2013, NASA said Thursday this most recent find was in concentrations 100 times greater than earlier detections. This includes findings about Mars' atmosphere and organic matter preserved in 3-billion-year-old mudstones in the Gale crater. Today, scientists are announcing they've discovered conclusive evidence that several organic compounds are indeed found on the Red Planet.

Curiosity also has confirmed seasonal increases of methane in the Martian atmosphere.

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.

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.

More powerful spacecraft are needed to prove whether life ever existed on Mars.

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. Over time, a picture of the ebb and flow of methane on Mars has emerged.

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Scientists have been seeking organic molecules on Mars ever since the 1976 Viking landers. Kerogen is a name given to organic material that is present in rocks and in carbonaceous meteorites. We don't know if that methane is ancient, we don't know if it's modern. It means that, one day, there is potential for more sophisticated instrumentation to detect a wider range of compounds in Mars samples, including the sorts of molecules made by living organisms, such as lipids, amino acids, sugars, or even nucleobases.

"The Martian surface is exposed to radiation from space".

"These clathrates lock the methane inside a water-ice crystal structure and are incredibly stable for millions of years until environmental conditions change and suddenly they can release that gas", says Duffy.

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.

Methane gas can be a byproduct of life on Earth, but there are geological processes that can produce it, too.

The second paper, led by Christopher Webster of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, marks a major step toward solving the mystery of methane on Mars. On Mars, that's been a maddening challenge: While scientists have detected bursts of methane on the planet, they've appeared at random - and thus, it's been hard to figure out what the source is. And NASA didn't launch another mission to Mars for over a decade. "So way under the ground this methane is trapped". And Curiosity dug a little deeper beneath the surface, which is blasted with radiation, to see what stories the soil had to tell.

Scientists hope to further the search for signs of life on Mars with the European and Russian rover, ExoMars, scheduled to land in 2021. Perhaps, some researchers speculated, Mars's remaining organics-and thus any signs of past or present life-were locked away in its subsurface depths.

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