Curiosity discovers ancient organic molecules on Mars

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About 95 percent of the methane in Earth's atmosphere is produced from biological activity, though the scientists said it is too soon to know if the Martian methane also is related to life. "I'm confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet". Both are the basic building blocks that might be a part of larger organic molecules.

"What we have detected is what we would expect from a sample from an ancient lake environment on Earth", said Eigenbrode, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Curiosity mission scientists stationed near Mars' huge Gale Crater, were quick in finding that Gale hosted a potentially habitable system, complete with a lake, billions of years ago.

Also, scientists describe the discovery of seasonal changes of methane in the atmosphere of Mars for almost three years of Mars, which is nearly six earth years. "I work with an unbelievable group of people on Mars, and we have discovered so much".

The discovery of the material should encourage Nasa to explore further into the ground, where fatty acids may reveal the first conclusive signs of life.

The organic material was unearthed in 3-billion-year-old sedimentary rock samples extracted by Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite and then heated to 500 degrees Celsius to release its molecular constituents.

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Since Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012, only recent drills into the Mars' gale crater show evidence of life.

By examining data spanning almost three Martian years (six Earth years), Webster and his colleagues discerned the first repeating pattern in Martian methane.

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. The space agencies of Europe, Russia and many others, plan to drill deeper and more widely on the surface, which begs the question of what else they might find.

"It could be from rock processes", processes that have been going on during the billions of years since Mars formed. However, "we're in a really good position to move forward looking for signs of life", said Jennifer Eigenbrode, a NASA biogeochemist and lead author of a study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

"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. "We don't know, however, these results tell us that we are on the right track", said leading researcher of the research program of NASA, Michael Meyer.

NASA plans to launch the Mars 2020 mission, where it will expand the robotic exploration of the planet. JPL built the rover and manages the project for SMD.