Organic Matter Found On Mars, Nasa Announces

NASA conference Mars Curiosity Rover

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, said that these discoveries should be viewed as Mars "telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life".

The search for life outside Earth focuses on the building blocks of life as we know it, which includes organic compounds and molecules - although these can exist without life. Hints have been found before, but this is the best evidence yet.

The discovery leaves open the possibility that microorganisms once populated the red planet - and still might.

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Curiosity also measured an unexpectedly large seasonal cycle in the low levels of atmospheric methane. That's not to say there are no non-biological sources, but on our world they're swamped by cow farts and belching bacteria. They're considered necessary for life to form, but there are plenty of places with lots of organic compounds but no life.

NASA is to announce new findings from Curiosity in a conference streamed live worldwide on Thursday.

While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet's surface and subsurface.

The new findings are also detailed in two studies published Thursday in the journal Science. In a companion article, an outside expert describes the findings as "breakthroughs in astrobiology".

Kirsten Siebach, a Rice University geologist who also was not involved in the studies, is equally excited. 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.

The super exciting part is that the method used to detect these chemicals indicates they're not floating around in the rock all alone, but are smaller pieces of organic chemistry that's been torn off even bigger, more complicated materials.

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. The changes were observed over three Martian years, which are equivalent to almost half a dozen Earth years. Seasonal peaks were detected in late summer in the northern hemisphere and late winter in the southern hemisphere.

Chris Webster, senior research fellow, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, discussed previous research that had observed methane spikes that seemed irregular. The magnitude of these seasonal peaks - by a factor of three - was far more than scientists expected.

"Even nowadays on Earth, we see a large influx of extraterrestrial [organic] material in the form of interplanetary dust and meteorites", ten Kate said. "It's tripling ... that's a huge, huge difference".

Nasa is now revealing the latest findings of its Curiosity Rover at a press conference. The diameter is slightly smaller than a US dime.

"We have no proof that the methane is formed biologically, but we can not rule it out, even with this new data set", Webster said. The twin Vikings came up pretty much empty.

The unmanned Curiosity rover discovered the matter from 3.5 billion-year-old rocks on the surface of the Red Planet, scientists have revealed. So they looked elsewhere.

They hit pay dirt about 6.5 kilometres away, at two sites near Pahrump Hills at the base of Mt Sharp.

Knowing that these molecules and compounds were present, then, gives new strength to the idea that life originated or existed on Mars and that more work by the Martian rovers can uncover the past.

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