Much Ado About Martian Organics

08 June, 2018, 12:31 | Author: Tracy Craig
  • NASA conference Mars Curiosity Rover

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.

As seasons come and go on Mars, NASA's Curiosity Rover has been diligently sniffing and digging away, looking for signs the planet could have supported life.

That doesn't mean they've found life, but it's a good indication Mars could have sustained life in the past. We also know that Mars was once warmer and had a denser atmosphere, important requirements for life as we know it. Organic matter can be one of several things: a record detailing ancient life, a food source for life or something that exists in the place of life. (3) report a strong seasonal variation in atmospheric methane, the simplest organic molecule, in the martian atmosphere. "There are locations, especially subsurface, where organic molecules are well-preserved". Methane is also quickly broken down by ultraviolet radiation, so any of the gas discovered on Mars was probably released recently. The two rock samples, from sites named Confidence Hills and Mojave, are at the bottom of Gale Crater.

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.

The Mars 2020 rover will scan the Red Planet for signs of ancient life by studying terrain that once consisted of flowing rivers and lakes more than 3.5 billion years ago.

"This is the first time we've seen something repeatable in the methane story, so it offers us a handle in understanding it", Chris Webster, the lead author of the second paper, said in the NASA statement.

Curiosity has detected organics embedded in the sediments of the "Pahrump Hills" area of Gale Crater.

In 2013, it confirmed organic compounds in rocks in a deep part of the crater called Yellowknife Bay, said Jennifer Eigenbrode, who led the organic molecule study published in Science.

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"We don't know, but these results tell us we are on the right track"'.

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.

"It's incredibly exciting, because it shows that Mars is an active planet today", says Caltech planetary scientist Bethany Ehlmann, a Mars expert who wasn't involved with the studies.

But Webster and others stress that the studies themselves aren't evidence for life on Mars: "The observations we see do not rule out the possibility of biological activity, [but] it's not a smoking gun for it".

By examining data spanning almost three Martian years (six Earth years), Webster and his colleagues discerned the first repeating pattern in Martian methane.

NASA earlier this week announced that the Curiosity rover had started analysing drilled samples on Mars in one of its onboard labs for the first time in more than a year.

In December 2012, the rover's two-year mission was extended indefinitely. They therefore suggest that methane could be trapped at depth, gradually seeping to the surface.

It will also get some upgraded Curiosity equipment in the form of new hardware, color cameras, a zoom lens and a laser that can reportedly vaporize rocks and soil.

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