New Mars discoveries advance case for possible life

08 June, 2018, 12:28 | Author: Harriet Bell
  • NASA news conference Mars announcement

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.

A second analysis by SAM found evidence of larger organic compounds five centimeters (two inches) below the surface of Mars at the site of a lake that dried up billions of years ago. 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.

Scientists, however, noted that the evidence of ancient life is far from conclusive because methane - released from the planet's surface - and organic molecules can also be created from chemical reactions without life being present. Another noticed the methane levels around Curiosity varied by the season. Mars2020 will shed light on the organic molecules-and prepare a sample that some future mission could bring back to Earth.

"It's not that they haven't found a bit of organic matter before or even the methane in the atmosphere.it's that they've now definitively shown this to be the case".

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

Neither paper can say whether past life ever existed on Mars, the scientists said.

Researchers previously determined that the Gale Crater likely contained a water lake billions of years ago that had the basic, vital ingredients for life.

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The scientists were surprised to find organic compounds, especially in the amounts detected, considering the harsh conditions, including bombardment of solar radiation on the Martian surface. The methane concentrations peak near the end of the northern hemisphere's summer, then dwindle in the winter.

It's the first time "something repeatable in the methane story" has been observed on Mars, Chris Webster of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said. Gale Crater's rim is visible on the horizon.

"And maybe we can find something better preserved than that, that has signatures of life in it", she told AFP.

"This is all possible because of Curiosity's longevity". The methane signal has been observed for almost 3 Martian years (nearly 6 Earth years), peaking each summer.

But the scientists can not say what the larger molecules were or how they formed. This is all written down: the Union Aerospace Corporation went digging around Mars-quite possibly lured in by the discovery of ancient organic material-one thing led to another, and they opened a portal to Hell. The host of the session, assistant director of science for communications in NASA's Planetary Science Division Michelle Thaller, began by clearing up any rumors that the agency would announce that they had found alien life. After drilling, Curiosity heats the rock samples, releasing the compounds.

"That would be exciting because if that is done within two years, NASA can send a mission specifically to that place", he said.

Inclusion of carbon dioxide in the mix could potentially lower the pressures required to form these lattices, allowing methane clathrates to form just a few metres below the surface.

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