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Curiosity Rover Finds Ancient ‘Building Blocks for Life’ on Mars

NASA finds curious new clues to life on Mars

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Mars
Red Planet: Mars to Come Closest to Earth in 15 Years Next Month. Pixabay

NASA’s Curiosity rover has discovered “tough” organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface of Mars — a finding that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life.

It has also found seasonal variations in the levels of methane in the atmosphere, a discovery that has relation to the search for current life on the Red Planet.

“With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington on Thursday.

“I’m confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet,” Zurbuchen said.

While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings, detailed in two papers in the journal Science, are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet’s surface and subsurface.

Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, and also may include oxygen, nitrogen and other elements.

While commonly associated with life, organic molecules also can be created by non-biological processes and are not necessarily indicators of life.

“Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules,” said Jen Eigenbrode of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is lead author of one of the two new Science papers.

NASA
NASA. Pixabay

“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,” Eigenbrode said.

In the second paper, scientists described the discovery of seasonal variations in methane in the Martian atmosphere over the course of nearly three Mars years, which is almost six Earth years.

This variation was detected by Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite.

Water-rock chemistry might have generated the methane, but scientists cannot rule out the possibility of biological origins.

Methane previously had been detected in Mars’ atmosphere in large, unpredictable plumes.

This new result shows that low levels of methane within Gale Crater repeatedly peak in warm, summer months and drop in the winter every year.

“This is the first time we have 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 (JPL) in Pasadena, California, lead author of the second paper.

Also Read: NASA to Hold Announcement About New Discovery on Mars

“This is all possible because of Curiosity’s longevity. The long duration has allowed us to see the patterns in this seasonal ‘breathing,” Webster added.

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

Although the surface of Mars is inhospitable today, there is clear evidence that in the distant past, the Martian climate allowed liquid water — an essential ingredient for life as we know it — to pool at the surface.

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. (IANS)

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This NASA Scientist is so Excited about Mercury Transit. Here’s Why

The tiny planet traveled directly between Earth and the sun on Monday, creating a perfect alignment

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NASA, Scientist, Mercury
The planet Mercury is seen in silhouette, low center, from Washington, as it transits across the face of the Sun, Nov. 11, 2019. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls). VOA

Stargazers witnessed a rare celestial event on Monday, as Mercury passed directly across the face of the sun.NASA

Mercury, the solar system’s smallest planet and closest to the sun, won’t make the next such transit until 2032.

The tiny planet traveled directly between Earth and the sun on Monday, creating a perfect alignment.

The best views of the event took place in North and South America, while viewers in Europe and Africa were able to see part of Mercury’s passage.

NASA, Scientist, Mercury
Mercury, the solar system’s smallest planet and closest to the sun, won’t make the next such transit until 2032. Pixabay

Stargazers had to use solar-filtered binoculars and telescopes to spot Mercury, which appeared as a small black dot on the face of the sun.

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For those who could not see the event directly, the U.S. Space agency, NASA, live-streamed images of the celestial transit, which took about five and a half hours. (VOA)