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08 June 2018, 09:27 | Justin Tyler
NASA GETTY STOCK IMAGENASA news A UFO hunter believes NASA is hiding proof of alien fossils on Mars
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.
All of which will be taken into account when several more Mars lander projects head for the Red Planet in the next two years. Curiosity reports that methane levels on Mars go up and down in a predictable cycle. But the organic molecules identified by the car-sized rover then were too few and ambiguous.
"We have just satisfied a mission objective for Curiosity", says Jennifer Eigenbrode, study lead author and a member of the Mars Science Laboratory mission team.
"What the organic detections in the rock do is to add to the story of habitability".
Launched in 2011, Curiosity was created to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. It has also found evidence in Mars' atmosphere, relating to the search for current life on the red planet. Its two-year mission will explore Mars to see if it's "geologically alive", or active below the surface. On Earth, such carbon-rich compounds are one of life's cornerstones.
"If there are no organics, we can pretty much forget about there being life or ever having been life on Mars", says Dr. Weintraub.
And if you're a scientist searching for signs of life, organic matter hopefully points to, if not a direct indication of life itself, something like life, or something other life forms can live off. In another paper published simultaneously in the journal Science, they describe background levels of methane, also an organic, in Mars's atmosphere that varies seasonally.
Curiosity sampled sites by drilling five centimeters below the surface in the Gale crater, which is where the rover landed in 2012. They're considered necessary for life to form, but there are plenty of places with lots of organic compounds but no life.
"Are there signs of life on Mars?" 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. "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.
That may be because numerous compounds, such as thiophene, methanethiol and dimethyl sulfide, had sulfur atoms in their molecular structure - which would strengthen the relatively fragile organic molecules, allowing them to survive the radiation bombarding the planet's surface for so long.
And they believe the fragments could have been parts of larger molecules present a long, long time ago on Mars. We also know that Mars was once warmer and had a denser atmosphere, important requirements for life as we know it. One of their most hard tasks is to prove that the carbon they find is biogenic, and not produced through non-living, geological processes. Previously, some scientists have said it would be destroyed by the oxidation processes that are active at Mars' surface.
Now, with years of Curiosity's atmospheric readings at their disposal, Webster and his colleagues were able to analyze 55 Earth months (or roughly three Martian years) of data, finding that there were indeed low levels of background radiation - and that it seemed to experience seasonal surges, almost tripling at its peak near summer's end in the northern hemisphere (and winter's end in the south).
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