NASA robot finds 'building blocks for life' on Mars

Pablo Tucker
June 8, 2018

Utrecht University scientist Inge Loes ten Kate asserted in an accompanying article that the findings proved that the dry lake bed found on Mars was habitable for life billions of years ago. Methane is also quickly broken down by ultraviolet radiation, so any of the gas discovered on Mars was probably released recently.

Webster explained that this is an exciting discovery because 99 percent of methane produced on earth has a biological origin, giving examples of rice paddies and termites. But chemical reactions that don't involve life can also produce them.

The Gale Crater was once filled with water fed by streams.

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). "We thought Mars was dead internally", Harrison said.

"With this new data, we again can not rule out microbial activity as a potential source", Webster said. "We also don't know if that methane was created from rock chemistry or it was created by microbes".

NASA's Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet. 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.

But the deposits were much smaller than they had anticipated.

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 key samples in the latest findings came from a spot 6.4 kilometres away.

Curiosity dug up samples at Mojave and Confidence Hills near Pahrump Hills. And the high amount of sulfur in the samples is most likely how they've lasted so long, the researchers said. Serpentinisation is still on the table, as are minute traces delivered by asteroids, and other chemical processes.

Referring to the findings regarding organic compounds and methane, Webster said, "They hint at an earlier time on Mars when water was present and the existence of primitive life forms was possible".

Curiosity's methane measurements occurred over four-and-a-half Earth years, covering parts of three Martian years.

"Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules", said Jen Eigenbrode of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is lead author of one of the two new Science papers.

"Ideally we want to get to samples that have not been irradiated". Scientists have lots of hardware working around the clock to probe the Red Planet's mysteries, and not every minor detail is worthy of a big show.

Webster says the rover results don't say whether the methane being released has been trapped for eons or is being generated now.

This work was funded by NASA's Mars Exploration Program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in Washington.

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