New Mars discoveries in ancient lakebed advance case for possible life

08 Juin, 2018, 02:18 | Auteur: Therese Cote

Freeman says finding organic molecules only a few centimeters below the surface of Mars is an encouraging sign for finding possible life.

At this point, there's simply no way of knowing whether the organic molecules and the methane findings point to potential life on Mars.

On top of that, after keeping close tabs on methane levels in the Martian atmosphere, scientists have finally confirmed something weird is definitely going on, and they think they know what's causing it.

The other paper in Science reported on new details in the search for the source of methane on Mars, which has wide spikes and dips according to the seasons.

Curiosity is the latest rover to trundle across the gritty sands of Mars. What the study has done, though, is to propel the search for life on Mars higher up the list of worldwide space exploration priorities - giving space agencies ammunition to argue for a coordinated programme of missions to explore the Red Planet. And life as we know it requires organic molecules to exist.

The two studies appear in the journal Science.

NASA has been searching for confirmation of organic molecules on Mars since the 1970s when it sent the Viking landers to the planet. However, finding organic material in such abundance suggests that it potentially has biological origins-either from bacteria or other forms of life that existed long ago. Curiosity has detected large organic molecules inside ancient Martian rocks, as well as methane cycles now active on the planet. What do we stand to gain from these missions anyway?

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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New Mars discoveries are advancing the case for possible life on the red planet, past or even present.

The rover was able to heat the samples to between 932 and 1508 degrees Fahrenheit and study the organic molecules released through gas analysis.

NASA has good evidence that Gale Crater where Curiosity is rolling around used to be a lake.

The nuclear-powered rover has detected a variety of organic compounds, a requirement for life as it's known on Earth, in three-billion-year-old rocks deposited on the floor of Gale Crater. To look for organics, Curiosity drills about two inches into a rock, collects the dust created, then lights it on fire to break the samples down to their chemical components (which is a similar process to Viking's).

Over the years, scientists have amassed a number of clues that can help answer the question of Mars' habitability, including evidence of liquid water.

Dr Webster said the data pointed to methane trapped in water-based crystals deep under the planet's surface, which slowly seep to the surface when temperatures rise. This mudstone gradually formed billions of years ago from silt that accumulated at the bottom of the ancient lake.

That could even be happening beneath the surface now, the researchers said. Its two-year mission will explore Mars to see if it's "geologically alive", or active below the surface. The host of the session, assistant director of science for communications in NASA's Planetary Science Division Michelle Thaller, began by clearing up any rumors that the agency would announce that they had found alien life. But they could also be the result of abiotic chemical reactions on the surface of the planet.

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