NASA finds organic matter on Mars

Launched in 2011, Curiosity was created to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes.

"The question of whether life might have originated or existed on Mars is a lot more opportune now that we know that organic molecules were present on its surface at the time", wrote Utrecht University astrobiologist Inge Loes ten Kate of the Netherlands.

"Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules", said Jen Eigenbrode of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Organic matter can be one of several things: a record detailing ancient life, a food source for life or something that exists in the place of life. "Biological, geological and meteoritic sources are all possible", they wrote.

The rock fragments were heated to more than 900 degrees Fahrenheit, and the rover's instruments looked at the molecules that wafted away at the high temperatures. "Finding ancient organic molecules in the top 5 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". "And then we went, 'oops, not only did we not find it, but we don't really know what we're looking for if it's not exactly like Earth.' And maybe that was not the best way to go about it".

The full findings will also appear in the 8 June edition of the journal Science.

NASA has been searching for confirmation of organic molecules on Mars since the 1970s when it sent the Viking landers to the planet. "That doesn't mean life, but organic compounds are the building blocks of life", he added.

Scientists say three different types of organic molecules were found by the rover after it dug just two inches (5cm) in the planet's surface.

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One thing is for sure, though - whatever we can figure out about the chemistry of Mars, it's nearly certainly going to add precious details to our understanding of life in the cosmos.

Referring to the findings regarding organic compounds and methane, Webster said, "They hint at an earlier time on Mars when water was present and the existence of primitive life forms was possible". Over the intervening years, fluid flowing thought it would have initiated chemical reactions that could have destroyed the organic matter - the material discovered may in fact be fragments from bigger molecules.

Curiosity has detected organics embedded in the sediments of the "Pahrump Hills" area of Gale Crater.

Three Mars years' worth of data shows that along with spikes in methane, levels swing between 0.24 and 0.65 parts per billion, peaking in the northern hemisphere summer. They are fairly certain that it comes from melting water-based crystals, called clathrates, buried just below the planet's surface.

"It could be from rock processes", processes that have been going on during the billions of years since Mars formed. This is also when life was evolving on our own planet. Hell comes from Mars, NASA, and it's only been two years since we cleaned up the last incident of Mars Hell.

But National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists emphasized there could be nonbiological explanations for both discoveries made by the Curiosity rover at a site called Gale crater, leaving the issue of Martian life a tantalizing but unanswered question.

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