NASA finds ‘ancient organic material’ on Mars, continues search despite Doom’s warnings

Clark Diaz
June 8, 2018

NASA says the announcement has something to do with "new science results from NASA's Curiosity rover", which tells us quite a bit about what the news might be. It previously found hints of methane and organic compounds, but these findings are the best evidence yet. Scientists described the particles as "complex carbon chains" but cautioned that the findings could be the result of natural geological phenomena.

"There's three possible sources for the organic material", said astrobiologist Jennifer Eigenbrode of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. According to the space agency, Curiosity rover discovered organic molecules after drilling mudstone, a type of sedimentary rock, in a handful of places in the Gale Crater.

As promised, NASA has announced new milestone Mars discoveries, namely the presence of organic molecules and seasonal changes in atmospheric methane.

But Curiosity has discovered "tough" organic molecules from an ancient lake bed inside Gale Crater, showing lakes may have existed for "maybe hundreds or thousands of years".

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In a second, potentially more significant finding announced Thursday, scientists reported detection of a seasonal variation in methane levels in the martian atmosphere.

"Although the surface of Mars is inhospitable today, there is clear evidence that in the distant past, the Martian climate allowed liquid water - an essential ingredient for life as we know it - to pool at the surface", NASA reports. That leaves open the possibility that microorganisms once populated our planetary neighbour and still might. This is the most compelling evidence yet that this dry planet once held lakes filled with carbon-based compounds capable of sustaining life.

NASA has been searching for confirmation of organic molecules on Mars since the 1970s when it sent the Viking landers to the planet. The Viking Project was the first United States mission to safely land spacecraft on the Martian surface, as well as send back images. But chemical reactions that don't involve life can also produce them. The findings could help to guide the search for ancient microbial life and improve our understanding of seasonal processes on Mars.

The organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen and other possible live-giving elements such as oxygen and nitrogen.

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Big news from Mars today: NASA's Curiosity rover found ancient traces of organic matter embedded in Martian rocks and detected a "seasonal variation" in atmospheric methane on the Red Planet - an annual pulse of the gas, nearly as if something out there were breathing.

The super exciting part is that the method used to detect these chemicals indicates they're not floating around in the rock all alone, but are smaller pieces of organic chemistry that's been torn off even bigger, more complicated materials. Then the scientists sifted through the results to figure out what might be genuine Martian organics. What the authors have found is a systematic variation in methane concentration with season, with the highest concentrations occurring at the Gale Crater towards the end of the northern summer.

"You're seeing a factor of three change in the methane in the atmosphere of Mars".

Both the methane gas and soil compounds are organic matter.

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