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New Mars discoveries advance case for possible life

10 June 2018

NASA held a press conference to share the latest findings by its rover on June 7, revealing that Curiosity found methane and other organic compounds that serve as the foundations of life.

NASA discovered elements of life on Mars, traces back to 3 billion yeCuriosity rovers launched in 2012 has found an important element on Mars, responsible for life.

The molecules, containing carbon and hydrogen, are locked in rocks that are 3 billion years old.

The rover has been seeing seasonal changes in the amount of methane in the Martian atmosphere.

While commonly associated with life, organic molecules also can be created by non-biological processes and are not necessarily indicators of life.

In this regard, Jennifer Eigenbrode, of NASA's Goddard Space Center in Maryland (USA), said finding organic molecules in the first five centimeters of rock deposited when Mars could have been habitable, "is a good omen for future missions that will deepen more". Since on Earth most of methane found in the atmosphere has an organic origin, it's not that insane to suggest that this might be the case on Mars as well.

Scientists agree more powerful spacecraft-and, ideally, rocks returned to Earth from Mars-are needed to prove whether tiny organisms like bacteria ever existed on the red planet. On Thursday scientists said the rover found potential building blocks of life in an ancient lakebed and confirmed seasonal increases in atmospheric methane. The analysis found organic and chemical molecules similar to that are found on the Earth.

She said that although the surface of Mars is presently "inhospitable", indications are that in the distant past the Martian climate allowed liquid water to exist on the planet's surface.

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In addition to finding organic molecules in the rocks in Gale Crater, rover scientists are reporting another intriguing finding. Ken Williford, an astrobiologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told the Washington Post "it makes us more confident that if biomarkers are there we might find them".

Again, while water-rock chemistry might have generated the methane, scientists can not rule out the possibility that the gas was produced by biological processes. Mars scientists have long feared that any organics would be extremely tough to find.

The two studies appear in the journal Science.

JPL's Christopher Webster, lead author on the study, said it's the first time Martian methane has shown a repeated pattern.

He and his colleagues think the methane is coming from underground.

Jen Eigenbrode, the research scientist at Goddard who investigates gases and other organic molecules. If you're interested in being part of the conversation, or have a burning question that you'd like NASA to answer, you can submit inquiries using the hashtag #askNASA up until 1 p.m. this afternoon.

So does that mean things once lived on Mars?

New Mars discoveries advance case for possible life