NASA robot detects complex organic matter on Mars in 'significant breakthrough'

Curiosity tests a new way to drill on Mars

Curiosity tests a new way to drill on Mars

Findings from Curiosity also reveal that a water lake inside Mars" Gale Crater once held all the "ingredients necessary for life", including "chemical building blocks and energy sources'. She said the discoveries break down some of the strongest arguments put forward by life-on-Mars skeptics, herself included. Much as a detective figures out whodunnit by filling in all the details of a crime first, astrobiologists set about piecing together a picture of the Martian environment to figure out if the planet could even support life, now or in the past. What they claimed they had discovered was a fossilised micro-organism in a Martian meteorite, which they argued was evidence that there has once been life on the Red Planet.

NASA hasn't found life on Mars.

"We don't know if that methane is ancient or modern", Webster said in a press conference. This includes findings about Mars' atmosphere and organic matter preserved in 3-billion-year-old mudstones in the Gale crater.

And although hopes were high that the two landers and their instruments would detect signs of life or organic compounds in samples taken from the surface, that didn't happen. About 3.5 billion years ago, research suggests, this pockmark on the Martian surface was brimming with water.

Both the methane gas and soil compounds are organic matter. Eigenbrode clarified, however, that the matter was not evidence of life as non-biological entities can create organic molecules. Earth-based telescopes, spacecraft orbiting Mars and now Curiosity, have measured episodic sudden increases in the background methane content. "As NASA put it, Water-rock chemistry might have generated the methane, but scientists can not rule out the possibility of biological origins".

But it is "consistent with the past presence of biology", said Ken Williford, an astrobiologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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And the seasonal methane pulse is perhaps, maybe, possibly - but far, far from certainly - the sort of signal Curiosity might detect if life did form back then and was still around somewhere, ten Kate said. The long duration has allowed us to see the patterns in this seasonable 'breathing'. 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.

"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. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Two rock samples taken by NASA's Curiosity rover were found to contain organic molecules.

The Curiosity rover has not been able to find the source of the organic molecules in its findings, according to the report. This mudstone gradually formed billions of years ago from silt that accumulated at the bottom of the ancient lake. Organic material can be produced without life. Some of these fragments contain sulfur, which could have helped preserve them in the same way sulfur is used to make vehicle tires more durable, according to Eigenbrode.

The Curiosity rover recently started drilling into the surface of Mars again after a almost two-year break due to a mechanical issue. The compounds discovered on Mars could have been produced by living things, or they could have been food for those living things.

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.

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