NASA finds more evidence that Mars could have once supported life
10 June, 2018, 01:55 | Author: Jacqueline Daniels
"The findings demonstrate that the planet was both warm and wet, and that it preserved organics", according to Raymond Arvidson, a NASA Mars science researcher and the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. "I'm confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the red planet". However, "we're in a really good position to move forward looking for signs of life", said Jennifer Eigenbrode, a NASA biogeochemist and lead author of a study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Science. "The first one would be life, which we don't know about". "Curiosity has shown that Gale Crater was habitable around 3.5 billion years ago, with conditions comparable to those on the early Earth, where life evolved around that time".
"The Martian surface is exposed to radiation from space".
"What the organic detections in the rock do is to add to the story of habitability". About 95 percent of the methane in Earth's atmosphere is produced from biological activity, though the scientists said it is too soon to know if the Martian methane also is related to life.
The material was discovered by the Mars Curiosity rover, which has been collecting data on the Red Planet since August 2012. While water-rock chemistry might have produced those variations, NASA said it "cannot rule out the possibility of biological origins". Methane previously had been detected in Mars' atmosphere in large, unpredictable plumes.
The amount of methane peaked at the end of summer in the northern hemisphere at about 2.7 times the level of the lowest seasonal amount.
Christopher Webster, an atmospheric science research fellow at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said it is possible existing microbes are contributing to the Martian atmospheric methane. Curiosity has recently been climbing the mountains surrounding the crater.
"Previous evidence for long-lived lakes has now been complemented by the crucially important discovery of what are conclusively organic compounds present in the ancient lake beds examined by Curiosity", Arvidson said.
SAM measured small organic molecules that came off the mudstone sample -fragments of larger organic molecules that don't vaporize easily. Most of Earth's atmospheric methane comes from animal and plant life and the environment itself.
The scientists hope to find better preserved organic compounds with Curiosity or other rovers that would allow them to check for chemical signatures of life.
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Launched in 2011, Curiosity was created to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes.
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