NASA finds curious new clues to life on Mars

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Life on Mars? NASA’s Curiosity rover discovers ancient evidence on the red planet

A new study published in Science on Thursday presents the first conclusive evidence for large organic molecules on the surface of Mars, a pursuit that began with NASA's Viking landers in the 1970s.

Kate further argues that the finding of ancient organics ascertain that the fundamental conditions for life formation did exist on Mars about 3.5 billion years ago and their current existence is because of the absence of an outside force such as ultraviolet light that can destroy them completely.

The discovery is a fascinating development in the search for life outside Earth and serve as a clue for researchers about the history of the Red Planet.

Curiosity found the first indications of water on Mars in 2013 and it also determined that the concentration of methane in the planet's thin atmosphere fluctuates regularly with the Martian seasons.

Using Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars instrument - which heats soil and rock samples to examine their contents - astrobiologist Jennifer Eigenbrode and her colleagues were able to identify an array of interesting organic molecules: Ring structures known as aromatics, sulfur compounds and long carbon chains.

"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. Also opening was the data about seasonal fluctuations in the level of methane in the atmosphere.

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"Hard" organic molecules found in rocks aged about 3 billion years, they were near the surface of the rocks. Those molecules are still very interesting though, because the radiation and chemicals found on the surface of the red planet will destroy organic molecules, so these somehow survived and did so in the top five centimeters of the surface. "That gives me great hope because we can perhaps get past these surface environments that are so harsh and maybe [go] a little deeper and find better-preserved materials".

"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.

Christopher Webster, an atmospheric science research fellow at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said it is possible existing microbes are contributing to the Martian atmospheric methane.

"We know that on Earth microorganisms eat all kinds of organic products, it is a source of valuable food for them", said Eigenbrode.

NASA associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen says the agency wants to keep searching for signs of life on Mars.

Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, and can include oxygen, nitrogen, and other elements. "Are there signs of life on Mars?" said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program, at NASA Headquarters. "We need to go to places that we think are the most likely places to find it".

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