New Mars discoveries advance case for possible life

NASA news conference Mars announcement

Methane is another organic molecule. The two rock samples, from sites named Confidence Hills and Mojave, are at the bottom of Gale Crater.

And that did the trick.

The studies on methane and on organic molecules were published Thursday in the journal Science.

Is this the discovery of Martians?

Organic molecules are the building blocks of life, though they can also be produced by chemical reactions unrelated to life. In this case, the scientists couldn't tell how these organics were formed. That doesn't necessarily mean that Curiosity discovered signs of past life. "We thought Mars was dead internally", Harrison said. It has been tacking across the floor of Gale Crater on Mars for five years, returning stunning images of Martian landscapes, with vistas opening up to show rocky outcrops seamed with mineral veins.

A view of Ophir Chasma on the northern portion of the vast Mars canyon system, Vallles Marineris, taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

What has NASA found on Mars? Are they from life?'

"That would be exciting because if that is done within two years, NASA can send a mission specifically to that place", he said.

What went wrong? There were too many uncertainties, Dr. Eigenbrode says.

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The press conference is set to kick off at 2 p.m. EDT today, and while NASA obviously hasn't revealed exactly what it has in store, there's a few things we do know. The scientists took questions from the public as they revealed increasingly more information about Curiosity's latest developments. Finding organics is critical.

As with methane, there could well be non-biological explanations for the presence of carbon-containing molecules on Mars, such as geologic processes or impacts by asteroids, comet, meteors and interplanetary dust.

Scientists have been seeking organic molecules on Mars ever since the 1976 Viking landers. This is also when life was evolving on our own planet. So they looked elsewhere.

One of NASA's aims with the Curiosity Rover is to search for signs of ancient life on the red planet. Combined, these results present tantalising hints of a potentially habitable Martian past.

And the seasonal methane pulse is perhaps, maybe, possibly - but far, far from certainly - the sort of signal Curiosity might detect if life did form back then and was still around somewhere, ten Kate said. Most of Earth's atmospheric methane comes from animal and plant life, and the environment itself. So like the organic molecules, it's not an unambiguous biosignature. But the planned ExoMars 2020 rover, part of a joint mission of the European Space Agency and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, will have a drill that can reach a depth of about 6.5 feet. "We can find organic matter preserved in mudstones that are more than three billion years old", Siebach said. That next step is to try to figure out if life is involved.

"What this new study is showing in some detail is the discovery of complex and diverse organic compounds in the sediments".

"You're seeing a factor of three change in the methane in the atmosphere of Mars".

Potential contaminants were analyzed and accounted for, so the results are the most conclusive yet. Other processes that have nothing to do with living organisms can create organic compounds as well. "And Mars always surprises us".

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