How to stream NASA’s mysterious Mars announcement today

How to stream NASA’s mysterious Mars announcement today

The Mars Curiosity rover made an interesting discovery while on our neighboring red planet: organic material and a "mysterious" methane.

NASA's Curiosity rover found new evidence of ancient, preserved rocks on Mars that suggests that the planet could have supported ancient life.

The Curiosity science team has also announced that it has found what are referred to as "organic molecules" in 3-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface. That leaves open the possibility that microorganisms once populated the red planet - and still might. Curiosity has detected large organic molecules inside ancient Martian rocks, as well as methane cycles now active on the planet. "As NASA put it, Water-rock chemistry might have generated the methane, but scientists can not rule out the possibility of biological origins".

The European Space Agency's ExoMars rover will also arrive in 2021 and begin measuring the atmosphere and drilling up to two metres below the surface.

While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet's surface and subsurface.

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Launched in 2011, Curiosity was created to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes.

"It's not that they haven't found a bit of organic matter before or even the methane in the atmosphere.it's that they've now definitively shown this to be the case".

By examining data spanning almost three Martian years (six Earth years), Webster and his colleagues discerned the first repeating pattern in Martian methane. And now they've added a catalogue of organic molecules to that list.

These organic molecules had managed to survive in rock that was about 3.5 billion years old, and that may have lain within a few centimeters of the surface for perhaps 100,000 years, Eigenbrode said. They thought mudstone rocks, formed from silt accumulated at the bottom of the ancient lake, might hold some clues and analyzed the powdered samples from Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars instrument suite. The rover can be seen (center) in this image captured by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Spikes and plumes of methane in Mars's thin atmosphere have been detected by several missions over more than two decades, but they have been frustrating to study, said Christopher Webster, who led the methane study.

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Curiosity found seasonal changes in atmospheric methane on Mars. The term "organic" is ambiguous - we often take it to mean "life-related" but it doesn't have to mean that.

"Because this lake had everything that organisms needed to be happy, maybe there was life in the lake", she says. The methane, he and his colleagues speculate, could come from aquifers melting during the Martian summer, releasing water that flows over rocks deep underground to produce fresh gas. "So way under the ground this methane is trapped".

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, praised the findings and said he is positive NASA's search for alien life is headed in the right direction. That's particularly exciting since water ― so far as we know ― is also an essential ingredient for life.

In the meantime Curiosity has undertaken what Webster calls "the most important measurements of Mars methane made to date".

"We can not rule out its creation from biological activity ..."

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