NASA finds ‘ancient organic material’ on Mars, continues search despite Doom’s warnings

NASA finds ‘ancient organic material’ on Mars, continues search despite Doom’s warnings

The rover has also detected methane in the Martian atmosphere.

Big news from Mars today: NASA's Curiosity rover found ancient traces of organic matter embedded in Martian rocks and detected a "seasonal variation" in atmospheric methane on the Red Planet - an annual pulse of the gas, nearly as if something out there were breathing.

Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite was involved in both the methane discovery and the organic molecule discovery.

"The results convincingly show the long-awaited detection of organic compounds on Mars".

Eigenbrode said that regardless where the organic material came from, its existence means that any microbial life found on Mars would have had a food source.

There is a silver lining: as we mention above and NASA was quick to point out, "while commonly associated with life, organic molecules also can be created by non-biological processes and are not necessarily indicators of life", which is encouraging. Scientists already knew billions of years ago liquid water existed on Mars and the crater had an ancient lake.

The results revealed a wealth of organics, Eigenbrode said - including some that had carbons linked in ring structures (such as benzenes) and others that include carbon chains (such as propane).

It previously found hints of methane and organic compounds, but these findings are the best evidence yet.

These organic molecules had managed to survive in rock that was about 3.5 billion years old, and that may have lain within a few centimeters of the surface for perhaps 100,000 years, Eigenbrode said.

For his part Webster says he has no preference among the different explanations, and believes it will take a long time before any final conclusions can be drawn.

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Potential contaminants were analyzed and accounted for, so the results are the most conclusive yet.

Each ice station will consist of layers of material and solid blocks of ice that students will drill into using equipment they designed and built.

"What the organic detections in the rock do is to add to the story of habitability".

It successfully tested a new drilling method in May on the Red Planet, making a 50-millimetre deep hole in a target called "Duluth".

Over five years, Curiosity has used its Tunable Laser Spectrometer to measure methane in the atmosphere at the Gale crater. In 2009, researchers reported that inexplicable martian plumes randomly belch out thousands of tons of methane at a time.

There is a seasonal variation to the methane that repeats, which means the methane is being released from the Martian surface or from reservoirs beneath the surface.

"Once it's on the surface, the temperature on the surface regulates the way in which it holds on to the methane through 'stickiness, ' or surface adsorption as we call it", he says.

The second paper investigates a problem that has been disturbing Mars scientists for several years: the abundance of methane in Mars' atmosphere.

Methane is a strong greenhouse gas, and it could have supported a climate that sustained lakes on Mars. And, of course, there is always the chance that Martian methanogens still slumber in the planet's subsurface even today, periodically awakening during clement periods to produce their gaseous calling-card. And NASA's scheduled Mars 2020 rover is slated to package soil samples for future missions to pick up and return to Earth.

Another mission, Mars InSight, is heading to Mars right now to study the geological life of the planet.

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