NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has found evidence that proves to be positive enough for future missions exploring the surface and subsurface of the Red Planet to find more concrete evidence of life. NASA Mars findings appear in detail in two papers of the June 8 edition of the organization’s journal Science.
Among the discoveries, the rover found organic molecules in sedimentary rocks that are three billion-year-old, suggesting the existence of ancient life on Mars. Also, its finding of Methane in the Martian atmosphere is relevant for seeking current life.
The organic molecules contain hydrogen and carbon, with the possibility to further hold nitrogen, oxygen, and other elements. However, organic molecules, commonly related to life, may as well be created by non-biological processes. Therefore, these are not necessarily an indicator strong enough for life on the planet.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, said the new findings encourage their search for life. Jen Eigenbrode of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said that organic matter in Martian materials does contain chemical clues on the conditions and processes of the planet.
The present surface on Mars does not welcome life, but there has been evidence that its climate allowed liquid water in the distant past. Curiosity rover’s data disclose that a water lake in Gale Crater had all elements necessary for life billions of years ago. This includes energy sources as well as chemical building blocks.
This is the first time we’ve seen something repeatable in the methane story, so it offers us a handle in understanding it. This is all possible because of Curiosity’s longevity. The long duration has allowed us to see the patterns in this seasonal ‘breathing’. – Chris Webster of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, lead author of the second paper
As for the methane discovery, there are seasonal variations of the gas found in the atmosphere over almost three Mars years, which is about six Earth years. It might be sourced from water-rock chemistry, but biological origins cannot be ruled out. Low levels of methane within Gale Crater are consistently peaking during the summer months and falling during winter.