NASA rover data shows Mars has the ingredients needed for life

NASA conference Mars Curiosity Rover

NASA conference Mars Curiosity Rover

This latest discovery adds evidence that Mars may have been capable of supporting life in its ancient past, though there's still no evidence that life had actually existed on the Red Planet. The so-called "tough" molecules include carbon and hydrogen, and may also contain oxygen, nitrogen, and other building blocks of life.

Methane is a strong greenhouse gas, and it could have supported a climate that sustained lakes on Mars.

"The question of whether life might have originated or existed on Mars is a lot more opportune now that we know that organic molecules were present on its surface at that time", Ten Kate wrote.

But National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists emphasised there could be nonbiological explanations for both discoveries made by the Curiosity rover at a site called Gale crater.

Rocks line an ancient channel where water may have once flowed on Mars. "That's a big change", Dr Webster said. The Martian surface is bombarded with radiation that can degrade organic compounds, explains Eigenbrode.

In the meantime Curiosity has undertaken what Webster calls "the most important measurements of Mars methane made to date".

"The idea that best fits our data is the idea of sub-surface storage", he said.

"We can not rule out its creation from biological activity ..." "We also don't know if that methane was created from water-rock chemistry like serpentinization or if it was created by methanogen microbes". The crystals may have obtained methane from ancient forms of life.

"The new findings - "tough" organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface, as well as seasonal variations in the levels of methane in the atmosphere - appear in the June 8 edition of the journal Science", NASA reports in a news release recapping the Thursday, June 7 press conference.

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

But the deposits were much smaller than they had anticipated.

As some of those molecules are often fragments of kerogens - organic molecules known to be the residue of living matter - the paper's authors cautiously suggest the Martian finds could suggest biological processes once took place on Mars.

Curiosity dug up samples at Mojave and Confidence Hills near Pahrump Hills.

The Gale Crater was probably habitable 3.5 billion years ago, based on what Curiosity has shown us. And the high amount of sulfur in the samples is most likely how they've lasted so long, the researchers said. Organic entails "containing carbon", as this NASA video says, but organic molecules can have biological or non-biological origins. Certainly, there are geological processes that could make methane levels change over the Martian year, she said.

"Ideally we want to get to samples that have not been irradiated".

That stuff is thought to be spread throughout the solar system, she said.

The mudstone rock was drilled from the top five centimeters (two inches) of the Martian surface and heated in a miniature analysis lab located on board the rover.

Dr Webster is also awaiting results from the current ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) mission, which is orbiting the Red Planet, sniffing methane. After drilling, Curiosity heats the rock samples, releasing the compounds.

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