The Curiosity rover was created to explore Gale Crater on Mars as a part of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission (MSL). But the scientists who have published two studies in the journal Science, are optimistic: this means that the organic matter can be preserved in the most challenging environments on the planet Mars. When NASA successfully landed the rover, it was one of the agency's most challenging and complex missions, and today that success is paying dividends. Methane is another organic molecule.
Organic molecules are the building blocks of life, though they can also be produced by chemical reactions unrelated to life.
The data was collected through drilling into the lowest point of the red planet's gale crater. The experiment involved scientists heating the rock fragments to more than 900 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by a close inspection of the molecules that wafted away.
On Thursday NASA had made an announcement, stating that a recent finding seems to confirm that there used to be life on Mars, and maybe even still is. NASA's Thomas Zurbuchen says, "with these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life".
Webster admitted that there might be some active biological processes due to the "repeatable identifiable methane cycle".
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By themselves, the new results aren't evidence for ancient life on Mars; non-living processes could have yielded identical molecules. "Everything that was needed to support life was there".
"These results do not give us any evidence of life", stressed Eigenbrode.
"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.
"With this new data, we again can not rule out microbial activity as a potential source", Webster said. Seasonal peaks were detected in late summer in the northern hemisphere and late winter in the southern hemisphere.
The findings were also remarkable in that they showed that organic material can be preserved for billions of years on the harsh Martian surface.
NASA earlier this week announced that the Curiosity rover had started analysing drilled samples on Mars in one of its onboard labs for the first time in more than a year. Since on Earth most of methane found in the atmosphere has an organic origin, it's not that insane to suggest that this might be the case on Mars as well.