Organic matter found on Mars

     IMMINENT NASA is to reveal findings from its Mars mission

"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.

Finding methane in the atmosphere and ancient carbon preserved on the surface gives scientists confidence that NASA's Mars 2020 rover and ESA's (European Space Agency's) ExoMars rover will find even more organics, both on the surface and in the shallow subsurface. The findings add to evidence that the crater the rover landed in was once a lake and offer the tantalising possibility that it could even have supported life billions of years ago. The rover, they announced, had spotted organic molecules in ancient Red Planet rocks and identified a seasonal cycle in the concentration of atmospheric methane, suggesting that the gas is leaking from underground reservoirs. Over last three Martian years, which equals to about six years here on Earth, Curiosity found the amount of methane within the Gale crater has been changing with seasons, rising during warm summer days and falling during the winters.

NASA said that water-rock chemistry might have generated the methane, but scientists said they can't rule out the possibility of biological origins.

In fact, Curiosity isn't equipped to hunt for life; its main goal is to determine if Mars has ever been capable of supporting microbes.

While these two findings aren't definitive evidence of life outside of Earth, they take us a tantalising step closer to finally having that answer.

JPL's Christopher Webster, lead author on the study, said it's the first time Martian methane has shown a repeated pattern. The 96-mile crater, named for Australian astronomer Walter F. Gale, was most likely formed by meteor impact between 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago. These salts can break down into oxygen and chlorine when heated at 200˚C and destroy organic molecules.

By themselves, the new results aren't evidence for ancient life on Mars; non-living processes could have yielded identical molecules.

The rover was able to heat the samples to between 932 and 1508 degrees Fahrenheit and study the organic molecules released through gas analysis.

Dr Eigenbrode said: "The Martian surface is exposed to radiation from space". Nearly exactly a year ago, NASA reported the discovery of such evidence in the form of an ancient lake that would have been suitable for microbial life to not only survive but flourish.

Curiosity's methane measurements occurred over 4 1/2 Earth years, covering parts of three Martian years.

Methane's presence on Mars is puzzling, because it survives only a few hundred years at a time, which means that somehow, something on the red planet keeps replenishing it.

"While we don't know the source of the material, the fantastic consistency of the results makes me think we have a slam-dunk signal for organics on Mars", said Jennifer Eigenbrode, a biogeochemist at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Centre. But methane can also be produced by normal geologic processes. "We know that on Earth microorganisms eat all sorts of organics", said Jen Eigenbrode, a biochemist at the space agency's Goddard Space Flight Centre.

"Are there signs of life on Mars?" asked Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters.

"The detection of organic molecules and methane on Mars has far-ranging implications in light of potential past life on Mars", she said.

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