Organic matter found on Mars in 'significant breakthrough'

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Organic matter found on Mars in 'significant breakthrough'

"With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington.

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'.

Jen Eigenbrode, a research scientist at Goddard, revealed the first news behind all the hype was the discovery of organic molecules from an ancient lake bed. Are they from life?'

In two studies published today (June 7) in the journal Science, researchers from NASA reported the largest amount of organic matter on Mars ever obtained by the Curiosity rover.

Has NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover found something important on the surface of the Red Planet - perhaps even traces of life?

The rover was able to heat the samples to between 932 and 1508 degrees Fahrenheit and study the organic molecules released through gas analysis. Mars2020 will shed light on the organic molecules-and prepare a sample that some future mission could bring back to Earth.

That means they do not have compelling evidence for a biological origin of the carbon, but the possibility is not ruled out, either. The Viking Project was the first USA mission to safely land spacecraft on the Martian surface, as well as send back images. However, the abundances of methane measured are greater than models predict should occur, meaning we still don't know exactly how they are produced. Still, this discovery is very encouraging in the context of what we know about Mars in the distant past.

Curiosity also has confirmed seasonal increases of methane in the Martian atmosphere.

Researchers can not yet say whether their discovery stems from life or a more mundane geological process.

The term "organic" means something different to a chemist than it does to a produce manager at a grocery store.

Organic matter has been found on Mars in soil samples taken from 3 billion-year-old mudstone in the Gale crater by the Curiosity rover, NASA announced Thursday.

"The closer we look, the more we see that Mars is a complex, dynamic planet that - particularly early in its history - was more conducive to life than we might have previously imagined", said Williford, who was not involved in either study.

In the end, a few smidgens of organics remained, including benzene and propane molecules. That's because the surface of Mars is constantly bombarded with radiation that can break down organic compounds. Methane is ubiquitous in places like the atmospheres of gas-giant planets.

However, so far, tests were unable to determine how the organic compounds were formed.

NASA will use both these discoveries to inform the design of its upcoming Mars 2020 rover.

Future testing of the carbon isotopes in the methane could make the picture clearer, but for now we can't get too carried away - although the new results are a massive step towards discovering even more.

Dr Webster said the difference was much larger than what you would expect if the methane was produced by the breakdown of organic matter from space. "I think we're moving toward extant [the opposite of extinct] life detection again".

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

That's why one of the scientists they quote says, "I suspect it's geological".

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