NASA’s Curiosity Rover Uncovers Building Blocks of Life on Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover has discovered chemicals the agency considers to be the "building blocks" of basic life forms in soil found on Mars, the aerospace agency announced Thursday.

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.

A NASA rover has detected a bonanza of organic compounds on the surface of Mars and seasonal fluctuations of atmospheric methane in findings released on Thursday that mark some of the strongest evidence ever that Earth's neighbour may have harboured life.

"Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes". In another paper published simultaneously in the journal Science, they describe background levels of methane, also an organic, in Mars's atmosphere that varies seasonally.

"With this new data, we again can not rule out microbial activity as a potential source", Webster said. The rover has returned a lot of fascinating science, but its latest discovery offers the best evidence yet for life on Mars.

The press conference is set to kick off at 2 p.m. EDT today, and while NASA obviously hasn't revealed exactly what it has in store, there's a few things we do know.

Dr Eigenbrode hopes further details about the nature of the carbon molecules will emerge with future missions, such as the European Space Agencies ExoMars Mission or NASA's Mars 2020 mission. Other processes that have nothing to do with living organisms can create organic compounds as well.

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.

"There's three possible sources for the organic material", said astrobiologist Jennifer Eigenbrode of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

The scientists behind experiments conducted by the Curiosity rover are today reporting two results that make the Red Planet's story even more interesting. "And what it does, it gives us a key to unlocking the mysteries associated with Mars methane because now we have something to test our models and our understanding against".

"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.

The samples were drilled from the base of Mount Sharp, inside a basin called Gale Crater that is believed to have held an ancient Martian lake. With five years of data from a single location, they now have answers.

That could even be happening beneath the surface now, the researchers said.

"It could be from rock processes", processes that have been going on during the billions of years since Mars formed.

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) spacecraft effectively ruled out cosmic origins following its analysis of the dust left after a close encounter with the comet Siding Spring in 2014. But they could also be the result of abiotic chemical reactions on the surface of the planet.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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