A Nasa rover has detected a bonanza of organic compounds on the surface of the planet and seasonal fluctuations of atmospheric methane, in findings that mark some of the strongest evidence ever that Earth's neighbour may have harboured life. Today, scientists are announcing they've discovered conclusive evidence that several organic compounds are indeed found on the Red Planet. Methane previously had been detected in Mars' atmosphere in large, unpredictable plumes. The 2020 rover will include an advanced spectrometer to scan for organic molecules.
Nasa is now revealing the latest findings of its Curiosity Rover at a press conference.
"With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. These soil samples were purposely taken miles away from the first detection of organic material on Mars made by the rover back in 2014. "It had the ability to support life-but doesn't mean life were there". Its two-year mission will explore Mars to see if it's "geologically alive", or active below the surface.
That Mars possesses organic molecules is not surprising.
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.
Scientists agree more powerful spacecraft - and, ideally, rocks returned to Earth from Mars - are needed to prove whether tiny organisms like bacteria ever existed on the red planet.
Inorganic carbon is carbon that is found in compounds that are completely unlike biological molecules.
And in a separate report in Science set to publish Friday, scientists revealed the Curiosity rover has also detected methane on the Martian surface in concentrations that vary with the seasons.
Curiosity has been drilling since 2013. 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.
I asked everyone I spoke with if they thought there was life on Mars, and the consensus was maybe, maybe not. All we can say from the data is that there is complex organic matter similar to what is found in many equivalent aged rocks on the Earth.
This does not mean life was discovered on Mars... yet.
It's impossible to say whether ancient life explains the Martian organics, however. "But it doesn't tell us that life was there". The rock samples were analyzed by SAM, which uses an oven to heat the samples (in excess of 900 degrees Fahrenheit, or 500 degrees Celsius) to release organic molecules from the powdered rock.
"People have been wondering about whether there might be life on Mars forever and finally ... they've done all the tests they've modified everything to be able to show that in fact there's organic matter on Mars".
NASA's Curiosity rover has again found evidence that Mars was potentially capable of hosting life. One of their most hard tasks is to prove that the carbon they find is biogenic, and not produced through non-living, geological processes.
On Mars, organic molecules could have been produced by some form of either present or past lifeforms. "If you can do this on Mars, imagine what you can do with analytical facilities available to us on Earth", he says.
The new results represent the longest systematic record of atmospheric methane, with measurements taken regularly over five years.