What has NASA actually found on Mars - and why is it important?
10 June, 2018, 21:26
NASA held a press conference to share the latest findings by its rover on June 7, revealing that Curiosity found methane and other organic compounds that serve as the foundations of life. These rocks can be from the ancient lake bed, and these type of rocks may be as old as billions of years, and it was explained by Jen Eigenbrode, and another research scientist at Goddard as a variety of molecules are identified in this discovery.
NASA is planning to launch a new rover as early as July 2020 with a mission to comprehensively determine whether life ever arose on Mars, while characterising the climate and geology of the red planet and preparing for human exploration.
Also NASA has found methane in the Martian atmosphere.
What they can't say yet is whether there is, or ever was, life on the Red Planet.
"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 that time", Kate said.
In a second paper in Science, NASA's Christopher Webster and an global team describe how they have used instruments on-board Curiosity to measure a seasonal variation in methane levels in the Martian atmosphere.
In addition to these molecules, the Rover was able to observe variations in methane emissions as a function of the season.
Water-rock chemistry might have generated the methane, but scientists can not rule out the possibility of biological origins.
"What this new study is showing in some detail is the discovery of complex and diverse organic compounds in the sediments". About 95 percent of the methane in Earth's atmosphere is produced from biological activity, though the scientists said it is too soon to know if the Martian methane also is related to life. Although no direct signs of life have been found on Mars, NASA researchers said that the changing methane content could be caused by microbes living somewhere on Mars.
"This is the first time we've seen something repeatable in the methane story, so it offers us a handle in understanding it", said Chris Webster of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, lead author of the second paper.
Webster theorizes the methane created either now or long ago is seeping from deep underground reservoirs up through cracks and fissures in the crust.
Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, and also may include oxygen, nitrogen and other elements. "We need to go to places that we think are the most likely places to find it".
NASA's Mars Helicopter, a small, autonomous rotorcraft, which will travel with the agency's Mars 2020 rover, now scheduled to launch in July 2020, to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet, is shown in this artist rendition from NASA/JPL in Pasadena, California, U.S. May 11, 2018.