Questions: Roger Summons on finding organic matter on Mars

  • Questions: Roger Summons on finding organic matter on Mars

Questions: Roger Summons on finding organic matter on Mars

Researchers can not yet say whether their discovery stems from life or a more mundane geological process.

Looking forward, NASA is getting ready to send its Mars 2020 rover to the red planet, and the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars 2020 rover will also head there at the same time.

A NASA robot has found more building blocks for life on Mars, the most complex organic matter yet from 3.5 billion-year-old rocks on the surface of the red planet, the U.S. space agency said on Thursday.

Now, scientists have found signs of complex, macromolecular organic matter in samples of the crater's 3-billion-year-old mudstones - layers of mud and clay that are typically deposited on the floors of ancient lakes.

Thanks to the extended time period that Curiosity has spent on Mars it has actually been able to detect seasonal variations in how the methane is produced, and where it settles throughout the year. Researchers said they can't rule out a biological source.

To identify organic material in the Mars' soil, the Curiosity rover drilled into sedimentary rocks, known as mudstone, from four areas in Gale Crater.

That may be because numerous compounds, such as thiophene, methanethiol and dimethyl sulfide, had sulfur atoms in their molecular structure - which would strengthen the relatively fragile organic molecules, allowing them to survive the radiation bombarding the planet's surface for so long. By exploring Gale Crater it has shown clear evidence that Mars once had liquid water on its surface, and views of the red planet from orbiting spacecraft have charted a desert landscape that appears to have been swept and hewn into shape by powerful flows of water.

The US space agency presented evidence of ancient organic material and atmospheric methane - two major clues in the search for extraterrestrial life.

The compounds might have come from a meteorite, or from geological formations akin to coal and black shale on Earth, or some form of life, Eigenbrode said.

"Today, we're announcing the discovery of a repeatable, identifiable, seasonal pattern in the methane measurements", said Chris Webster, a senior research fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Taken together, the discoveries suggest Mars once hosted ancient life. The rover mission has achieved that goal, showing that its landing site, the floor of a huge crater called Gale, harbored a potentially habitable lake-and-stream system long ago.

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, pictured on Mars' Vera Rubin Ridge in a self-portrait obtained on February 4, 2018, landed on the planet in 2012. The discovery positions scientists to begin searching for direct evidence of past life on Mars and bolsters the case for returning rock samples from the planet, an effort that begins with the Mars 2020 rover. Now with these new results, what does this all say about the possibility that there is, or was life on Mars?

For the previous mud stone samples that had produced the chlorinated molecules, scientists had heated the powdered rock to 200 degrees Celsius.

There is a seasonal variation to the methane that repeats, which means the methane is being released from the Martian surface or from reservoirs beneath the surface.

Inorganic carbon is carbon that is found in compounds that are completely unlike biological molecules. The mission's Trace Gas Orbiter arrived at Mars in late 2016, and it's now collecting data that will let scientists map Mars's methane-and maybe even pinpoint its sources. "The first one would be life, which we don't know about".

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, praised the findings and said he is positive NASA's search for alien life is headed in the right direction.