New Mars discoveries advance case for potential life

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – New Mars discoveries are advancing the case for potential life on the purple planet, previous and even current.

Scientists reported Thursday that NASA’s Curiosity rover has discovered potential constructing blocks of life in an historical Martian lakebed. Hints have been discovered earlier than, however that is the very best proof but.

The natural molecules preserved in three.5 billion-year-old bedrock in Gale Crater — believed to as soon as include a shallow lake the dimensions of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee — counsel situations again then might have been conducive to life. That leaves open the chance that microorganisms as soon as populated our planetary neighbor and may nonetheless exist there.

“The possibilities of having the ability to discover indicators of historical life with future missions, if life ever was current, simply went up,” mentioned Curiosity’s challenge scientist, Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Curiosity additionally has confirmed sharp seasonal will increase of methane within the Martian ambiance. Researchers mentioned they cannot rule out a organic supply. Most of Earth’s atmospheric methane comes from animal and vegetation, and the atmosphere itself.

The two research seem within the journal Science . In a companion article, an out of doors professional describes the findings as “breakthroughs in astrobiology.”

“The query of whether or not life may need originated or existed on Mars is much more opportune now that we all know that natural molecules had been current on its floor on the time,” wrote Utrecht University astrobiologist Inge Loes ten Kate of the Netherlands.

Kirsten Siebach, a Rice University geologist who additionally was not concerned within the research, is equally excited. She mentioned the discoveries break down a number of the strongest arguments put ahead by life-on-Mars skeptics, herself included.

“The huge takeaway is that we will discover proof. We can discover natural matter preserved in mudstones which are greater than three billion years previous,” Siebach mentioned. “And we see releases of gasoline in the present day that could possibly be associated to life within the subsurface or on the very least are in all probability associated to heat water or environments the place Earth life can be completely happy dwelling.”

The methane observations present “some of the compelling” circumstances for present-day life, she mentioned.

Scientists agree extra highly effective spacecraft — and, ideally, rocks returned to Earth from Mars — are wanted to show whether or not tiny organisms like micro organism ever existed on the purple planet.

Curiosity’s methane measurements occurred over four ½ Earth years, protecting components of three Martian years. Seasonal peaks had been detected in late summer season within the northern hemisphere and late winter within the southern hemisphere.

JPL’s Christopher Webster, lead creator on the research, mentioned it is the primary time Martian methane has proven a repeated sample. The magnitude of those seasonal peaks — by an element of three — was way over scientists anticipated. “We had been simply blown away,” he mentioned. “It’s tripling … that is an enormous, enormous distinction.”

Webster theorizes the methane created both now or way back is seeping from deep underground reservoirs up via cracks and fissures within the crust. Once on the floor, the methane sticks to grime and rocks, with extra launched into the ambiance when it is hotter.

“We don’t have any proof that the methane is fashioned biologically, however we can’t rule it out, even with this new information set,” Webster mentioned.

Scientists have been looking for natural molecules on Mars ever because the 1976 Viking landers. The twin Vikings got here up just about empty.

Arriving at Mars in 2012 with a drill and its personal onboard labs, Curiosity confirmed the presence of organics in rocks in 2013, however the molecules weren’t precisely what scientists anticipated. So they regarded elsewhere. The key samples within the newest findings got here from a spot four miles (6.four kilometers) away.

As with methane, there might properly be non-biological explanations for the presence of carbon-containing molecules on Mars, comparable to geologic processes or impacts by asteroids, comet, meteors and interplanetary mud.

Jennifer Eigenbrode, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland who led the organics research, mentioned she’s intrigued by the chance that life may need existed and tailored on Mars.

“I am equally as fascinated by the concept life by no means obtained began on Mars within the first place. That’s a more durable query to deal with scientifically, however I feel that we have to give the seek for life on Mars due diligence. We must go to locations that we predict are the most probably locations to seek out it.”

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The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely accountable for all content material.

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