Organic molecules on Mars

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In addition, some of the readings could have come from contamination that had tagged along from Earth; others could have been produced in combustion as the sample was heated, which may have been the case in an earlier detection of organics by Curiosity.

Questions remain, however, as to how the organic material was formed. "While we don't know the source of the material, the awesome consistency of the results makes me think we have a slam-dunk signal for organics on Mars", Eigenbrode said.

Scientists hope to further the search for signs of life on Mars with the European and Russian rover, ExoMars, scheduled to land in 2021. "Organic matter" in this context doesn't mean anything we'd recognize from our lives on Earth.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, said that these discoveries should be viewed as Mars "telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life".

The team estimates the ancient sediments, where the complex organic molecules were found, were actually the remains of a vast lakebed that existed more than 3bn years ago.

Nasa announced that it had something exciting to share with us, adding that there would be a live discussion on Thursday 7 June to explain more about "new science results from Nasa's Mars Curiosity rover".

'I'm confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet'. The 2020 rover will include an advanced spectrometer to scan for organic molecules. 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. Some of these fragments contain sulfur, which could have helped preserve them in the same way sulfur is used to make auto tires more durable, according to Eigenbrode.

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NASA has good evidence that Gale Crater where Curiosity is rolling around used to be a lake.

Researchers say they can't rule out a biological source.

Three Mars years' worth of data shows that along with spikes in methane, levels swing between 0.24 and 0.65 parts per billion, peaking in the northern hemisphere summer. The seasonal variation provides an important clue for determining the origin of martian methane.

Contained below the 3.5 billion-year-old mudstone was a fine-grained sedimentary rock.

"We have no proof that the methane is formed biologically, but we can not rule it out, even with this new data set", Webster said.

A NASA rover has detected a bonanza of organic compounds on the surface of Mars and seasonal fluctuations of atmospheric methane in findings released on Thursday that mark some of the strongest evidence ever that Earth's neighbour may have harboured life.

Jennifer Eigenbrode, an astrobiologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who led the organics study, said she's intrigued by the possibility that life might have existed and adapted on Mars. NASA was only just setting foot on the Martian surface, so scientists didn't know enough about the environment to be able to get a clear yes or no answer. "And then we went, 'oops, not only did we not find it, but we don't really know what we're looking for if it's not exactly like Earth.' And maybe that was not the best way to go about it". This is also when life was evolving on our own planet.

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