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Mars had the ingredients needed for life
10 June 2018, 09:25 | Justin Tyler
What has NASA actually found on Mars - and why is it important?
A NASA robot has found more building blocks for life on Mars, the most complex organic matter yet from 3.5 billion-year-old rocks on the surface of the red planet, the United States space agency said on Thursday.
Curiosity mission scientists stationed near Mars' huge Gale Crater, were quick in finding that Gale hosted a potentially habitable system, complete with a lake, billions of years ago.
Curiosity's latest data reveal that the watery lake that once filled Mars'sGale Crater contained complex organic molecules about 3.5 billion years ago. Coupled with new evidence of seasonal methane variations in the martian atmosphere, these new findings are an hopeful indicator that life might have once survived on the Red Planet.
Curiosity also has confirmed seasonal increases of methane in the Martian atmosphere.
What they can't say yet is whether there is, or ever was, life on the Red Planet. Most likely we will need a more advanced spacecraft and some soil samples or rocks available for tests on Earth, and only then we will be able to confirm if life on Mars exists or not.
"The detection of organic molecules and methane on Mars has far-ranging implications in light of potential past life on Mars", said Inge Loes ten Kate, a Utrecht University scientist in an accompanying article in Science.
Launched in 2011, Curiosity was created to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes.
"Hard" organic molecules found in rocks aged about 3 billion years, they were near the surface of the rocks. Although the surface of Mars is inhospitable today, there is evidence that in the distant past, the Martian climate allowed the presence of liquid water-an essential ingredient for life-at the surface. Although no direct signs of life have been found on Mars, NASA researchers said that the changing methane content could be caused by microbes living somewhere on Mars.
Organic molecules containing chlorine were detected on Mars before.
Scientists do not exclude a biological origin of the methane, due to the fact that its level changes from season to season.
"This is the first time we've seen something repeatable in the methane story, so it offers us a handle in understanding it", said Chris Webster of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, lead author of the second paper. But the scientists who have published two studies in the journal Science, are optimistic: this means that the organic matter can be preserved in the most challenging environments on the planet Mars. "But it gave us a lot of anticipation that, if we can find these molecules here, perhaps we're going to come across other layers of rock that have more organics in them". "We need to go to places that we think are the most likely places to find it".
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