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Friday, 15 June 2018 00:00

Organic matter found on Mars by Nasa's rover

Organic Matter found on Mars Organic Matter found on Mars.

Nasa's Curiosity rover found organic matter buried and preserved in ancient sediments that formed a vast lake bed on Mars more than 3billion years ago. 

What does this new discovery show about life in Mars? The search for alien life focuses on life as we know it, which includes organic compounds and molecules despite the fact that these can exist without life. Organic matter can be one of several things: a record detailing ancient life, a food source for life or something that exists in the place of life. Yet, the discovery is the most compelling evidence that long before the planet became the world it is today, Martian lakes were a rich soup of carbon-based compounds that are necessary for life, at least as we know it. Curiosity's project scientist, Ashwin Vasavada of Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California states "The chances of being able to find signs of ancient life with future missions, if life ever was present, just went up".

The rover has also detected methane in the Martian atmosphere. Methane is considered the simplest organic molecule. It's present in other places in our solar system that could host life, like Saturn and Jupiter's moons Enceladus, Europa and Titan. And if life does exist elsewhere, it may be very different or even form differently from how we understand life on Earth. "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. "I'm confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet."

Studies about the issue appear in the journal Science. In a companion article, an outside expert describes the findings as "breakthroughs in astrobiology". Utrecht University astrobiologist Inge Loes ten Kate of the Netherlands wrote "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 the time". Researchers cannot tell how the organic material formed and so leave open the crucial question: are the compounds remnants of past organisms; the product of chemical reactions with rocks; or were they brought to Mars in comets or other falling debris that slammed into the surface? All look the same in the tests performed.

The incident comes soon after the intention of Nasa to bring samples from Mars to Earth for detailed examination which could show extra details about life on Mars.


Read 336 times Last modified on Friday, 15 June 2018 14:37

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