Published: Thu, June 07, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

New Mars discoveries advance case for possible life

New Mars discoveries advance case for possible life

On top of that, after keeping close tabs on methane levels in the Martian atmosphere, scientists have finally confirmed something weird is definitely going on, and they think they know what's causing it.

Organic molecules are the building blocks of life, though they can also be produced by chemical reactions unrelated to life.

"Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes".

No matter its objective, these work as "chemical clues" for researchers about Mars.

Here on Earth, 95 percent of all methane molecules are the product of living chemistry.

Whether anywhere other than Earth has harbored life, perhaps even in microbial form, is one of the paramount questions in science.

Still, "we're in a really good position to move forward looking for signs of life", NASA biogeochemist Jennifer Eigenbrode said in a study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

"Those two features are very important for the preservation of organic material in rock on Earth", Dr Eigenbrode said.

"With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington. That leaves open the possibility that microorganisms once populated the red planet - and still might. The Viking Project was the first USA mission to safely land spacecraft on the Martian surface, as well as send back images. And Curiosity dug a little deeper beneath the surface, which is blasted with radiation, to see what stories the soil had to tell. It likely held a lake, and now includes a mountain.

Just a couple of weeks ago, NASA announced that Curiosity had successfully drilled a hole using this new technique, and its handlers were excited that the rover could get back to work. The organic molecules and volatiles, comparable to samples of sedimentary rock rich in organics on Earth, included thiopene, methylthiophenes methanethiol and dimethylsulfide.

David Koch to retire due to poor health
While David Koch was the Libertarian nominee for vice president in 1980, he shared little of his brother's political zeal. Separately, CNBC has reported that 78-year old David Koch is set to retire from Koch Industries because of ill health.


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.

"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.

The scientists were surprised to find organic compounds, especially in the amounts detected, considering the harsh conditions, including bombardment of solar radiation on the Martian surface.

Dr Webster said the difference was much larger than what you would expect if the methane was produced by the breakdown of organic matter from space.

Three Mars years' worth of data shows that along with spikes in methane, levels swing between 0.24 and 0.65 parts per billion, peaking in the northern hemisphere summer. With five years of data from a single location, they now have answers. Once at the surface, the methane sticks to dirt and rocks, with more released into the atmosphere when it's hotter.

The gas may be stored in the cold Martian subsurface in water-based crystals called clathrates, researchers said.

Methane is a strong greenhouse gas, and it could have supported a climate that sustained lakes on Mars. The release of methane is an active process on Mars, which could suggest new things about what's unfolding on the Red Planet.

It previously found hints of methane and organic compounds, but these findings are the best evidence yet. This is also when life was evolving on our own planet.

NASA's InSight Lander, launched on May 5, will land on Mars on November 26.

"That would be exciting because if that is done within two years, NASA can send a mission specifically to that place", he said. For example, scientists want to know if it has "Mars quakes".

Like this: