Tuesday, 19 June, 2018

NASA prepares big announcement on new find by Mars Curiosity Rover

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Sandy Nunez | 08 June, 2018, 02:23

Organic molecules are the building blocks of life, though they can also be produced by chemical reactions unrelated to life. She said the discoveries break down some of the strongest arguments put forward by life-on-Mars skeptics, herself included.

"There's three possible sources for the organic material", said astrobiologist Jennifer Eigenbrode of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The Viking Project was the first USA mission to safely land spacecraft on the Martian surface, as well as send back images.

"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.

One thing is for sure, though - whatever we can figure out about the chemistry of Mars, it's nearly certainly going to add precious details to our understanding of life in the cosmos.

Scientists agree more powerful spacecraft - and, ideally, rocks returned to Earth from Mars - are needed to prove whether tiny organisms like bacteria ever existed on the red planet. If there was, then that life would have left behind organic molecules when it decayed.

Referring to the findings regarding organic compounds and methane, Webster said, "They hint at an earlier time on Mars when water was present and the existence of primitive life forms was possible".

Since it landed at the Gale Crater in 2012, the Curiosity Rover has been sniffing out methane in the area. Now, Curiosity has discovered ancient organics that have been preserved in rocks for billions of years. "I'm confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries".

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Some of the new science instruments included on the next Mars rover include an X-ray spectrometer, ultraviolet laser, excited rings of carbon atoms, and a ground-penetrating radar that will allow the space agency to look under the surface of Mars up to 30 feet deep depending on terrain. Mars2020 will shed light on the organic molecules-and prepare a sample that some future mission could bring back to Earth.

The source is still unclear, but it may be stored in the cold Martian subsurface in water-based crystals called clathrates, researchers said. 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 timing of the pulses provides an important clue.

"The idea that best fits our data is the idea of sub-surface storage", he said.

NASA scientists announced at a press conference that soil samples analyzed from a dry lake bed on the red planet's surface had revealed traces of organic molecules that have been apparently preserved on Mars' surface for billions of years, USA Today reported.

"It could be from rock processes", processes that have been going on during the billions of years since Mars formed. NASA was only just setting foot on the Martian surface, so scientists didn't know enough about the environment to be able to get a clear yes or no answer.

"I don't believe there's life on Mars at the present", Freeman says, because Mars is very dry, very cold and lacks much of an atmosphere.

At this point, we simply don't know whether the origin is biological or geological.