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NASA releases Curiosity rover findings

10 June 2018

A new study published in Science on Thursday presents the first conclusive evidence for large organic molecules on the surface of Mars, a pursuit that began with NASA's Viking landers in the 1970s.

And NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has deceptively found something that is quite interesting on Mars, and the space agency has made a decision to reveal its discovery in a press conference which is to be held on Thursday.

The organic matter preserved on Mars suggests the planet could once have been home to life forms and was discovered by drilling deep into the planet's Gale crater. That leaves open the possibility that microorganisms once populated our planetary neighbor and might still exist there.

Also, scientists describe the discovery of seasonal changes of methane in the atmosphere of Mars for almost three years of Mars, which is nearly six earth years.

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While such organic compounds could have been produced by ancient life - or could have provided a food source for ancient organisms - it is also possible that the molecules were created in the complete absence of life. And this mission has been successful in finding new evidence that Mars could have supported life in the past.

Although the media and the scientific community had speculated that NASA would today announce clear evidence of the existence of life on Mars, today's message means only one more step in that direction.

Curiosity observed that the amount of methane gas in the planet's atmosphere increased in the summer and decreased in the summer.

In addition to these molecules, the Rover was able to observe variations in methane emissions as a function of the season. Those molecules are still very interesting though, because the radiation and chemicals found on the surface of the red planet will destroy organic molecules, so these somehow survived and did so in the top five centimeters of the surface.

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"And maybe we can find something better preserved than that, that has signatures of life in it", she said. For what was said detected molecule is unknown. The good news is that the findings pave the way and further direct the Martian quest for life.

JPL's Christopher Webster, lead author on the study, said it's the first time Martian methane has shown a repeated pattern.

"We have no proof that the methane is formed biologically, but we can not rule it out, even with this new data set", Webster said. In the recent years, the scientists were interested to know facts about the red planet Mars.

As with methane, there could well be nonbiological explanations for the presence of carbon-containing molecules on Mars, such as geologic processes or impacts by asteroids, comet, meteors and interplanetary dust. If you're interested in being part of the conversation, or have a burning question that you'd like NASA to answer, you can submit inquiries using the hashtag #askNASA up until 1 p.m. this afternoon.

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NASA releases Curiosity rover findings