NASA’s major Mars findings: organic molecules and seasonal changes

NASA’s major Mars findings: organic molecules and seasonal changes

No matter its objective, these work as "chemical clues" for researchers about Mars.

Methane is considered the simplest organic molecule. "We didn't want to fund an incredibly expensive mission and come up short again".

The full findings will also appear in the 8 June edition of the journal Science. In a companion article, an outside expert describes the findings as "breakthroughs in astrobiology".

"We have just satisfied a mission objective for Curiosity", says Jennifer Eigenbrode, study lead author and a member of the Mars Science Laboratory mission team. And scientists already expected that, in the early, more turbulent days of the solar system, organic compounds would rain down on Mars.

All of the outside sources I spoke with said it's important to be skeptical about claims of life, extinct or otherwise, on the Red Planet.

The scientists behind experiments conducted by the Curiosity rover are today reporting two results that make the Red Planet's story even more interesting.

The term "organic" means something different to a chemist than it does to a produce manager at a grocery store.

Pastor killed by crocodile during water baptism
Residents and fishermen made a huge effort to save Pastor Docho but were unsuccessful, policeman Eiwnetu Kanko said. Crocodiles kill hundreds in Africa, where many people depend upon lakes and rivers for bathing and washing clothes.

Some geologists devote their careers to seeking organic inclusions in Earth rocks, hoping to find ancient fossils of terrestrial life.

"It could be from rock processes", processes that have been going on during the billions of years since Mars formed. It likely held a lake, and now includes a mountain.

Some of the new science instruments included on the next Mars rover include an X-ray spectrometer, ultraviolet laser, excited rings of carbon atoms, and a ground-penetrating radar that will allow the space agency to look under the surface of Mars up to 30 feet deep depending on terrain. The rock samples were analyzed by SAM, which uses an oven to heat the samples (in excess of 900 degrees Fahrenheit, or 500 degrees Celsius) to release organic molecules from the powdered rock. That's not to say there are no non-biological sources, but on our world they're swamped by cow farts and belching bacteria. Drilling beneath the surface, rather than sampling what was on top like Viking did, also helped. "Both radiation and harsh chemicals break down organic matter", Eigenbrode continued. Before, researchers couldn't understand why the little bit of methane detected in the Martian atmosphere varied. With five years of data from a single location, they now have answers. Methane is ubiquitous in places like the atmospheres of gas-giant planets. It arrived at Mars in 2016 and is now mapping concentrations of methane and other gases from on high. The release of methane is an active process on Mars, which could suggest new things about what's unfolding on the Red Planet. The latter element, it is thought, came from a sulfur-rich mineral called jarosite that previous Curiosity investigations had revealed in 3.5-billion-year-old deposits in Gale Crater-laid down at a time when the crater was warm, wet and apparently habitable. Then, the conditions would have been comparable to Earth. That's particularly exciting since water ― so far as we know ― is also an essential ingredient for life.

Launched in 2011, Curiosity was created to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes.

NASA's InSight Lander, launched on May 5, will land on Mars on November 26.

This work was funded by NASA's Mars Exploration Program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in Washington.

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