NASA has been looking for signs of life on Mars for years, since the Viking landers touched down there in 1976. Results have been cryptic and inconclusive. But, Curiosity Rover is on the case! Two reports released Thursday point to results from Curiosity that could mean possible ancient life on Mars. They’ll be published in the June 8th edition of the Journal, Science.
Curiosity found a variety of ‘“tough” organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface’ of Gale Crater, where it is believed there were once conditions favorable enough to allow a liquid water lake to pool on the surface of the planet, according to nasa.gov.
Organics hadn’t previously been found on the Red Planet, and point to possible forms of life having been supported there some time in the planet’s distant past. NASA’s Jen Eigenbrode, lead author of the papers said, “Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes.”
Due to the fact that it’s been on the planet’s surface for so long, Curiosity also found that there are seasonal releases of methane gas the Martian atmosphere. Methane is mainly produced by plants and animals on Earth, but can also be produced by ‘water-rock chemistry.’ So, don’t get too excited yet. But, NASA was quick to point out that scientists cannot rule out biological origins.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters said this of the news, “With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life.” He added, “I’m confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet.”
So, though we don’t know for sure what these ‘building blocks of life’ molecules and methane gases are doing on Mars, or where, exactly, they came from… the fact that they’re there opens up a universe of possibilities. Keep looking up!