Curiosity finds ancient organic molecules on Mars

Curiosity finds ancient organic molecules on Mars

Curiosity finds ancient organic molecules on Mars

NASA will host a discussion and announce a discovery made by its Mars rover Curiosity on Thursday. If extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, that bar has most certainly not been met here.

Knowing that these molecules and compounds were present, then, gives new strength to the idea that life originated or existed on Mars and that more work by the Martian rovers can uncover the past.

NASA's Curiosity rover has wandered around Mars' Gale crater, a presumed ancient lakebed, since 2012. We also know that Mars was once warmer and had a denser atmosphere, important requirements for life as we know it.

While the 1996 discovery has never been verified, it hasn't ever been conclusively disproved either. The release of methane is an active process on Mars, which could suggest new things about what's unfolding on the Red Planet.

Mineral veins on Mars seen by Curiosity.

NASA has been searching for confirmation of organic molecules on Mars since the 1970s when it sent the Viking landers to the planet.

Curiosity has detected organics embedded in the sediments of the "Pahrump Hills" area of Gale Crater. If researchers saw this signature on Mars, the case for life would get stronger. There was also mention of some "mysterious" methane fluctuations in Mars' atmosphere, but I'm more concerned with the ancient organic stuff, which, it should be noted, does not mean ancient living stuff. The organic material discovered on Mars is rich in sulphur, which would have also helped to preserve it. After carefully accounting for background contamination from SAM, Freissinet and her colleagues baked 3-billion-year-old mudstone samples at over 500 degrees C, a temperature at which perchlorates should have fully burned away.

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The results revealed a wealth of organics, Eigenbrode said - including some that had carbons linked in ring structures (such as benzenes) and others that include carbon chains (such as propane). Thus, SAM has detected "macromolecular organic matter" otherwise known as kerogen.

Excitingly, the material discovered on Mars is similar to terrestrial kerogen.

The term "organic" means something different to a chemist than it does to a produce manager at a grocery store. But methane can also be produced by normal geologic processes. Earlier tests may have hinted at organics, but the presence of chlorine in martian dirt complicated those interpretations. What is needed to find more clues is a mission to Mars with a deep drill. The ESA's ExoMars rover, which is targeting the same time frame, will assist with the search for ancient life.

The second paper investigates a problem that has been disturbing Mars scientists for several years: the abundance of methane in Mars' atmosphere.

Q: What could be the possible sources for these organic molecules, biological or otherwise?

Gale crater on Mars. It arrived at Mars in 2016 and is now mapping concentrations of methane and other gases from on high.

Methane, the simplest organic molecule, ranges "between 0.24 to 0.65 parts per billion, peaking near the end of summer in the Northern hemisphere", said the report, based on three years of data. The planet's atmosphere-mostly carbon dioxide-is nearly nothing like our own. "And the last one is geological processes, meaning the rock-forming processes themselves". The authors conclude that this must be related to surface temperature.

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