Life on Mars? Curiosity rover finds 'most compelling' evidence yet


"Curiosity has shown that Gale crater (where the material was discovered) was habitable around 3.5 billion years ago, with conditions comparable to those on the early Earth, where life evolved around that time".

Paul Mahaffy, director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, explained that the objective of the mission was to explore the possibility of sustaining life on Mars. Another noticed the methane levels around Curiosity varied by the season.

Nasa is now revealing the latest findings of its Curiosity Rover at a press conference. Mars2020 will shed light on the organic molecules-and prepare a sample that some future mission could bring back to Earth. Much as a detective figures out whodunnit by filling in all the details of a crime first, astrobiologists set about piecing together a picture of the Martian environment to figure out if the planet could even support life, now or in the past. This is the most compelling evidence yet that this dry planet once held lakes filled with carbon-based compounds capable of sustaining life.

We should point out here that NASA press conferences are always hyped to the skies by UFO fans - then it turns out to be something important, but not alien-related.

Methane is considered the simplest organic molecule. On Earth, such carbon-rich compounds are one of life's cornerstones.

The surface of Mars may be inhospitable today, but there is strong evidence that the Martian climate once accommodated liquid water - which, as most of you will know, is one of the key components to life - to pool at the surface. The scientists said it is premature to know whether or not the compounds were created in biological processes. Curiosity has detected large organic molecules inside ancient Martian rocks, as well as methane cycles now active on the planet.

But National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists emphasised there could be nonbiological explanations for both discoveries made by the Curiosity rover at a site called Gale crater. But they're of interest to astrobiologists because they are the essential ingredients in all the chemistry that drives life on Earth.

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I asked everyone I spoke with if they thought there was life on Mars, and the consensus was maybe, maybe not.

NASA announced the discoveries in a livestream this afternoon, saying Curiosity found the latest evidence for ancient life on Mars in rocks. "It probably indicates more active water in the subsurface than we understood", scientist Kirsten Siebach, Martian geologist at Rice University not involved with the studies, told Gizmodo.

For the previous mud stone samples that had produced the chlorinated molecules, scientists had heated the powdered rock to 200 degrees Celsius.

"Because we see these coming off of the sample at high temperatures, what they're really telling us is that they're part of something larger, a macromolecule", she said.

"I think part of the Mars community is frustrated with these incremental advances", she says, so there's a push to go look for life directly again. However, the abundances of methane measured are greater than models predict should occur, meaning we still don't know exactly how they are produced.

Eigenbrode said that regardless where the organic material came from, its existence means that any microbial life found on Mars would have had a food source. The Martian surface is bombarded with radiation that can degrade organic compounds, explains Eigenbrode.

Furthermore, Pontefract says, ExoMars and NASA's Mars 2020 mission will use tools that take a different approach to analyze organics.