Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

What has Nasa found on Mars? Alien life? Watch announcement livestream here

What has Nasa found on Mars? Alien life? Watch announcement livestream here

"The question of whether life might have originated or existed on Mars is a lot more opportune now that we know that organic molecules were present on its surface at that time". What they found are organic molecules but not something in a molecular form that is important for life. In chemistry, almost all molecules containing both carbon and hydrogen are organic compounds.

This does not mean life was discovered on Mars... yet.

A NASA rover has detected a bonanza of organic compounds on the surface of Mars and seasonal fluctuations of atmospheric methane in findings released on Thursday that mark some of the strongest evidence ever that Earth's neighbour may have harboured life.

The scientists behind experiments conducted by the Curiosity rover are today reporting two results that make the Red Planet's story even more interesting.

A smaller discovery of organic matter by NASA's Curiosity rover was announced in 2012. The organic molecules and volatiles, comparable to samples of sedimentary rock rich in organics on Earth, included thiopene, methylthiophenes methanethiol and dimethylsulfide. "It probably indicates more active water in the subsurface than we understood", scientist Kirsten Siebach, Martian geologist at Rice University not involved with the studies, told Gizmodo.

NASA now operates three orbiters and two surface rovers at Mars with a new lander - InSight - on the way. However, the abundances of methane measured are greater than models predict should occur, meaning we still don't know exactly how they are produced.

One thing is for sure, though - whatever we can figure out about the chemistry of Mars, it's nearly certainly going to add precious details to our understanding of life in the cosmos.

Today, in a much-anticipated announcement live-streamed by NASA, it announced both an abundance of organic molecules and seasonal, recurrent releases of methane gas into the atmosphere of planet Mars.

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

Water-rock chemistry might have generated the methane, but scientists can not rule out the possibility of biological origins.

Curiosity's project scientist, Ashwin Vasavada of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said: "The chances of being able to find signs of ancient life with future missions, if life ever was present, just went up".

Eigenbrode said that regardless where the organic material came from, its existence means that any microbial life found on Mars would have had a food source.

"The Martian surface is exposed to radiation from space", said Jen Eigenbrode, a study author and research scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

In the end, a few smidgens of organics remained, including benzene and propane molecules.

Dr Webster is also awaiting results from the current ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) mission, which is orbiting the Red Planet, sniffing methane. Or reactions driven by Mars's ancient volcanoes could have formed the compounds from primordial carbon dioxide. To look for organics, Curiosity drills about two inches into a rock, collects the dust created, then lights it on fire to break the samples down to their chemical components (which is a similar process to Viking's). "I think we're moving toward extant [the opposite of extinct] life detection again". I'll tell you what comes from Mars: Hell.

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