Mars Might Just Be Habitable, Data From NASA Rover Shows

It could be. Organic molecules are the building blocks of all known forms of life. The host of the session, assistant director of science for communications in NASA's Planetary Science Division Michelle Thaller, began by clearing up any rumors that the agency would announce that they had found alien life.

NASA now operates three orbiters and two surface rovers at Mars with a new lander - InSight - on the way.

Utrecht University scientist Inge Loes ten Kate asserted in an accompanying article that the findings proved that the dry lake bed found on Mars was habitable for life billions of years ago. What do we stand to gain from these missions anyway?

Curiosity is a car-side space exploratory vehicle which has been traversing the Red Planet since 2012 to determine if life there ever existed. "Organic matter" in this context doesn't mean anything we'd recognize from our lives on Earth. She pointed out that the surface of Mars is regularly exposed to space radiation, and that radiation and chemicals typically break down organic matter.

Key details about the organics may have been obscured in Curiosity's sample because the rover can only drill two inches into rock.

The discovery leaves open the possibility that microorganisms once populated the red planet - and still might.

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"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.

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.

The samples were found to contain thiophene, 2- and 3-methylthiophenes, methanethiol, and dimethylsulfide.

These molecules appeared to come from a much larger molecule, and contained high levels of sulfur.

The samples were drilled from the base of Mount Sharp, inside a basin called Gale Crater that is believed to have held an ancient Martian lake.

Three Mars years' worth of data shows that along with spikes in methane, levels swing between 0.24 and 0.65 parts per billion, peaking in the northern hemisphere summer.

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"With this new data, we again can not rule out microbial activity as a potential source", Webster said.

A potential explanation for the seasonal Martian methane.

"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".

"That would be exciting because if that is done within two years, NASA can send a mission specifically to that place", he said. 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.

Launched in 2011, Curiosity was created to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. "And then we went, 'oops, not only did we not find it, but we don't really know what we're looking for if it's not exactly like Earth.' And maybe that was not the best way to go about it".

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