How to stream NASA’s mysterious Mars announcement today

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NASA's Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet.

For the first time, scientists say they have clear evidence that the chemical building blocks of life exist on Mars.

In the second paper, scientists describe the discovery of seasonal variations in methane in the Martian atmosphere over the course of nearly three Mars years, which is almost six Earth years.

They don't exactly roll off the tongue, but researchers believe that these are fragments of larger molecules that were present on Mars billions of years ago.

The Curiosity rover has not been able to find the source of the organic molecules in its findings, according to the report. What the study has done, though, is to propel the search for life on Mars higher up the list of global space exploration priorities - giving space agencies ammunition to argue for a coordinated programme of missions to explore the Red Planet.

The scientists hope to find better preserved organic compounds with Curiosity or other rovers that would allow them to check for chemical signatures of life.

The methane observations provide "one of the most compelling" cases for present-day life, she said.

The studies on methane and on organic molecules were published Thursday in 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. Maybe there are subsurface Martian bacteria eating that methane, Tanya Harrison, director of research for Arizona State University's Space Technology and Science ("NewSpace") Initiative, told Gizmodo. Today, scientists are announcing they've discovered conclusive evidence that several organic compounds are indeed found on the Red Planet.

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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".

The rover was able to heat the samples to between 932 and 1508 degrees Fahrenheit and study the organic molecules released through gas analysis. "Both radiation and harsh chemicals break down organic matter".

The samples were drilled from the base of Mount Sharp, inside a basin called Gale Crater that is believed to have held an ancient Martian lake.

The new results represent the longest systematic record of atmospheric methane, with measurements taken regularly over five years.

Finding organic compounds - which are substances that contain carbon and are considered necessary components of life - in 3.5-billion-year-old rocks on Mars is a big deal, ten Kate told Live Science, and so is the discovery of the seasonal methane (CH4) variation in the atmosphere.

Even though the TGO mission can't get as close to the source as the Curiosity Rover, Dr Webster said it could locate potential areas where methane is concentrated or coming from. This is also when life was evolving on our own planet.

NASA also has another rover in the works with its Mars 2020 mission, which plans to drill cores and set them aside for a possible future pickup and return to Earth.

"That is a good place for life to have lived if it ever existed on Mars", she said.

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