Mars is littered with organic molecules
“The chances of being able to find signs of ancient life with future missions, if life ever was present, just went up,” said Curiosity’s project scientist, Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
So what does this discovery mean? Well, it means that we need to study mars with more attention in order to find whether or not the red planet was home to ancient living organisms.
“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.”
NASA’s announcement is the result of two new studies that reveal unprecedented details about how and why there is methane on Mars, as well as why there are organic molecules preserved within the planet’s soil.
The first of the two scientific studies centers on methane, a simple organic molecule that forms the basis for natural gas.
On earth, for example, most of the methane is produced by biological sources. In fact, the Curiosity Rover first confirmed that Mars’s atmosphere contained methane in 2015. However, despite the fact we knew it was there, we had no clue where it was coming from.
The second study details how NASA’s Curiosity Rover collected soil samples from two distinctive spots in Mars’ Gale crater. This crater is believed to be around three billion years old.
After Curiosity heated up the samples, scientists found a number of organic molecules commonly found in Earth’s organic-rich sedimentary rock.
“The detection of organic molecules and methane on Mars has far-ranging implications in the light of potential past life on Mars,” astrobiologist Inge Loes ten Kate wrote in a Perspective published in the same issue of Science. “Curiosity has shown that Gale crater was habitable around 3.5 billion years ago, with conditions comparable to those on the early Earth, where life evolved around that time.”
“The whether life might have originated or existed on Mars is a lot more opportune now we know that organic molecules were present on its surface at that time,” she added.