NASA robot detects complex organic matter on Mars in 'significant breakthrough'


These newly-found ancient organics, ten Kate said, serve to confirm that the basic conditions for life to form really did exist on Mars 3.5 billion years ago, and that there wasn't any outside force (say, ultraviolet light) powerful enough to destroy them entirely.

"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.

On top of that, after keeping close tabs on methane levels in the Martian atmosphere, scientists have finally confirmed something weird is definitely going on, and they think they know what's causing it. But the origin of methane on Mars has always been debated.

"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". Gale Crater's rim is visible on the horizon.

The samples were drilled from the base of Mount Sharp, inside a basin called Gale Crater. Over time, a picture of the ebb and flow of methane on Mars has emerged.

"This is the first time we've seen something repeatable in the methane story, so it offers us a handle in understanding it", Chris Webster of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said. "That's a big change", Dr Webster said.

"The Martian surface is exposed to radiation from space".

"We've been able to rule out some of the more simple or accepted ideas of Mars's methane", Dr Webster said. Spikes of methane (CH4) were first noticed in the Red Planet's atmosphere several years ago, drawing intense debate over the hydrocarbon's possible source.

"We can not rule out its creation from biological activity ..."

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The Mars Curiosity rover made an interesting discovery while on our neighboring red planet: organic material and a "mysterious" methane.

So NASA astrobiologist Jennifer Eigenbrode at the Goddard Space Flight Center spent the intervening years figuring out which signals were clearly junk and removing them.

But the deposits were much smaller than they had anticipated.

Curiosity dug up samples at Mojave and Confidence Hills near Pahrump Hills. "Organic matter" includes a whole host of compounds with carbon atoms in them. Some of these fragments contain sulfur, which could have helped preserve them in the same way sulfur is used to make vehicle tires more durable, according to Eigenbrode. "Both radiation and harsh chemicals break down organic matter", Eigenbrode continued.

"Once it's on the surface, the temperature on the surface regulates the way in which it holds on to the methane through 'stickiness, ' or surface adsorption as we call it", he says.

Dr Eigenbrode hopes further details about the nature of the carbon molecules will emerge with future missions, such as the European Space Agencies ExoMars Mission or NASA's Mars 2020 mission. "We didn't want to fund an incredibly expensive mission and come up short again".

That stuff is thought to be spread throughout the solar system, she said.

Mineral veins on Mars seen by Curiosity.

The discoveries were found using the USA space agency's Curiosity Mars Rover, which has been studying the Red Planet's surface since it first landed in 2012.