NASA finds ancient Organic material, methane on Mars - TechSource International - Leaders in Technology News

NASA finds ancient Organic material, methane on Mars

The latest results could help to guide the search for ancient microbial life
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NASA’s Curiosity rover has found organic molecules on Mars, the Space agency revealed in a major announcement Thursday.

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found organic molecules on Mars, the Space agency revealed in a major announcement Thursday.

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found organic molecules on Mars, the Space agency revealed in a major announcement Thursday.

During a crowded press conference at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the Space agency’s scientists said they found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet.

The new findings – “tough” organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface, as well as seasonal variations in the levels of methane in the atmosphere – appear in the June 8 edition of the journal Science. Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, and also may include oxygen, nitrogen and other elements. While commonly associated with life, organic molecules also can be created by non-biological processes and are not necessarily indicators of life.

“Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules,” said Jen Eigenbrode a scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center, who is lead author of one of the two new Science papers. “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.”

Although the surface of Mars is inhospitable today, there is clear evidence that in the distant past, the Martian climate allowed liquid water – an essential ingredient for life as we know it – to pool at the surface. Data from Curiosity reveal that billions of years ago, a water lake inside Gale Crater held all the ingredients necessary for life, including chemical building blocks and energy sources.

This low-angle self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the site from which it reached down to drill into a rock target called "Buckskin" on lower Mount Sharp.

This low-angle self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the site from which it reached down to drill into a rock target called "Buckskin" on lower Mount Sharp.

“The Martian surface is exposed to radiation from space. Both radiation and harsh chemicals break down organic matter,” said Eigenbrode. “Finding ancient organic molecules in the top five centimeters of rock that was deposited when Mars may have been habitable, bodes well for us to learn the story of organic molecules on Mars with future missions that will drill deeper.”

In a separate study, scientists traced some of the some of the planet's atmospheric methane to its roots. The trailblazing results will help to guide the search for ancient microbial life and improve our understanding of seasonal processes on Mars.