NASA prepares big announcement on new find by Mars Curiosity Rover

NASA conference Mars Curiosity Rover

NASA announced the discoveries in a livestream this afternoon, saying Curiosity found the latest evidence for ancient life on Mars in rocks.

The discovery proves that while Mars is inhospitable today, it previously allowed for "liquid water" to pool, meaning a water lake inside Mars' Gale Crater could have once supported life, NASA said in an announcement on Tuesday. There was also mention of some "mysterious" methane fluctuations in Mars' atmosphere, but I'm more concerned with the ancient organic stuff, which, it should be noted, does not mean ancient living stuff. Curiosity reports that methane levels on Mars go up and down in a predictable cycle. That's not to say there are no non-biological sources, but on our world they're swamped by cow farts and belching bacteria.

The Curiosity rover, launched in 2011 with about $2.5 billion worth of scientific equipment with the intent of exploring and analyzing Mars' Gale Crater.

The traces of methane on Mars are tantalizing to biologists eager for evidence of life.

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

These are exciting findings, published as twin papers in the journal Science today (June 7).

NASA has been searching for confirmation of organic molecules on Mars since the 1970s when it sent the Viking landers to the planet.

Some sort of biology can't be ruled out, of course, but any kind of complex organic chemistry would still tell us something about how life arose on Earth.

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The scientists were surprised to find organic compounds, especially in the amounts detected, considering the harsh conditions, including bombardment of solar radiation on the Martian surface. "And what it does, it gives us a key to unlocking the mysteries associated with Mars methane because now we have something to test our models and our understanding against".

"Those two features are very important for the preservation of organic material in rock on Earth", Dr Eigenbrode said.

What they claimed they had discovered was a fossilised micro-organism in a Martian meteorite, which they argued was evidence that there has once been life on the Red Planet.

The discoveries were found using the USA space agency's Curiosity Mars Rover, which has been studying the Red Planet's surface since it first landed in 2012.

The nuclear-powered rover has detected a variety of organic compounds, a requirement for life as it's known on Earth, in three-billion-year-old rocks deposited on the floor of Gale Crater. But the organic molecules identified by the car-sized rover then were too few and ambiguous.

The new results represent the longest systematic record of atmospheric methane, with measurements taken regularly over five years. They are fairly certain that it comes from melting water-based crystals, called clathrates, buried just below the planet's surface.

Even though the TGO mission can't get as close to the source as the Curiosity Rover, Dr Webster said it could locate potential areas where methane is concentrated or coming from.

"It could be from rock processes", processes that have been going on during the billions of years since Mars formed. 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. Hell comes from Mars, NASA, and it's only been two years since we cleaned up the last incident of Mars Hell.

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