Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

Mars Rover Curiosity Finds More Clues to the Potential for Life


On the top of scientists' wish list was evidence of organic matter, which emerged in 2013. The 2020 rover will include an advanced spectrometer to scan for organic molecules. The Insight and ExoMars missions will teach scientists more about the planet's geology and methane.

And that did the trick.

The main objective of the Curiosity rover is to discover whether or not the planet ever had an environment able to support small life forms known as microbes.

So NASA astrobiologist Jennifer Eigenbrode at the Goddard Space Flight Center spent the intervening years figuring out which signals were clearly junk and removing them.

Is this the discovery of Martians? Data from Curiosity reveal that billions of years ago, a water lake inside Gale Crater held all the ingredients necessary for life, including chemical building blocks and energy sources. This is all written down: the Union Aerospace Corporation went digging around Mars-quite possibly lured in by the discovery of ancient organic material-one thing led to another, and they opened a portal to Hell.

But the scientists can not say what the larger molecules were or how they formed.

These newly-found ancient organics, ten Kate said, serve to confirm that the basic conditions for life to form really did exist on Mars 3.5 billion years ago, and that there wasn't any outside force (say, ultraviolet light) powerful enough to destroy them entirely. Still, this discovery is very encouraging in the context of what we know about Mars in the distant past.

"We've considered three possible sources for the organics: geology, meteorites and biology", she said.

Over five years, Curiosity has used its Tunable Laser Spectrometer to measure methane in the atmosphere at the Gale crater.

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A view of Ophir Chasma on the northern portion of the vast Mars canyon system, Vallles Marineris, taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

What has NASA found on Mars?

Mineral veins on Mars seen by Curiosity.

That was the goal when NASA deployed Viking 1 and 2 in 1976, which were the first mechanical envoys to set foot on Mars. Are they from life?' The one experimental result that wasn't an outright "no" was controversial.

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) spacecraft effectively ruled out cosmic origins following its analysis of the dust left after a close encounter with the comet Siding Spring in 2014. The innumerable technological advances which space explorations have given us? "We didn't want to fund an incredibly expensive mission and come up short again". Serpentinisation is still on the table, as are minute traces delivered by asteroids, and other chemical processes. I want to know their story. And life as we know it requires organic molecules to exist.

Scientists realized that they had to take a step back and try a more cautious, methodical approach. In a companion article, an outside expert describes the findings as "breakthroughs in astrobiology".

Over the years, scientists have amassed a number of clues that can help answer the question of Mars' habitability, including evidence of liquid water.

The term "organic" means something different to a chemist than it does to a produce manager at a grocery store. Organic molecules contain carbon, the chemical element central to life. The Viking Project was the first U.S. mission to safely land spacecraft on the Martian surface, as well as send back images. This is also when life was evolving on our own planet. So they looked elsewhere.

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