More building blocks of life found on Mars

NASA's Jennifer Eigenbrode said in an interview this year, 'I look at organic molecules in rocks, ice and sediments and try to figure out where they came from and what happened to them over time. "Both radiation and harsh chemicals break down organic matter".

Scientists have been seeking organic molecules on Mars ever since the 1976 Viking landers.

"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.

We've been exploring the surface of Mars in hopes of understanding the Red Planet since NASA's Viking mission in the 1970s. If there was, then that life would have left behind organic molecules when it decayed.

"The new findings - "tough" organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface, as well as seasonal variations in the levels of methane in the atmosphere - appear in the June 8 edition of the journal Science", NASA reports in a news release recapping the Thursday, June 7 press conference.

'I'm confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet'.

No, NASA hasn't discovered life on Mars yet-but a new result makes it seem like maybe, at some point in the planet's history, the conditions were ripe for some extraterrestrial beings.

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The rover was able to heat the samples to between 932 and 1508 degrees Fahrenheit and study the organic molecules released through gas analysis.

The samples were found to contain thiophene, 2- and 3-methylthiophenes, methanethiol, and dimethylsulfide. Some of these fragments contain sulfur, which could have helped preserve them in the same way sulfur is used to make vehicle tires more durable, according to Eigenbrode.

The samples were drilled from the base of Mount Sharp, inside a basin called Gale Crater that is believed to have held an ancient Martian lake. Researchers said they can't rule out a biological source.

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. The timing of the pulses provides an important clue.

Even though the TGO mission can't get as close to the source as the Curiosity Rover, Dr Webster said it could locate potential areas where methane is concentrated or coming from.

"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", wrote Utrecht University astrobiologist Inge Loes ten Kate of the Netherlands. But they could also be the result of abiotic chemical reactions on the surface of the planet. Its two-year mission will explore Mars to see if it's "geologically alive", or active below the surface.

The discovery proves that while Mars is inhospitable today, it previously allowed for "liquid water" to pool, meaning a water lake inside Mars' Gale Crater could have once supported life, NASA said in an announcement on Tuesday. For example, scientists want to know if it has "Mars quakes". "We also don't know if that methane was created from rock chemistry or it was created by microbes".

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