NASA prepares big announcement on new find by Mars Curiosity Rover

Mars Curiosity rover selfie

It could be. Organic molecules are the building blocks of all known forms of life.

The organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen and other possible live-giving elements such as oxygen and nitrogen. In the past, scientists have seen plumes and patches of this intriguing substance, but this is the first time they've been able to discern a pattern in its presence.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington, said: "With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life".

Big news from Mars today: NASA's Curiosity rover found ancient traces of organic matter embedded in Martian rocks and detected a "seasonal variation" in atmospheric methane on the Red Planet - an annual pulse of the gas, nearly as if something out there were breathing. Curiosity Rover's Twitter featured a cheeky call asking followers to tune it to see its findings. 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. But Marc Fries, a planetary scientist who curates the cosmic dust collection at NASA Johnson Space Center, takes a more skeptical view.

NASA now operates three orbiters and two surface rovers at Mars with a new lander - InSight - on the way. Plus, scientists don't know what the original molecules were before Curiosity heated the rocks to take the measurement, Utrecht University scientist Inge Loes ten Kate, who was not involved with the research, told Gizmodo. This is the most compelling evidence yet that this dry planet once held lakes filled with carbon-based compounds capable of sustaining life. Curiosity has detected large organic molecules inside ancient Martian rocks, as well as methane cycles now active on the planet. Hell comes from Mars, NASA, and it's only been two years since we cleaned up the last incident of Mars Hell.

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

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Launched in 2011, Curiosity was created to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. They could even have been transported from elsewhere in the solar system.

NASA announced the discoveries in a livestream this afternoon, saying Curiosity found the latest evidence for ancient life on Mars in rocks. That's because the surface of Mars is constantly bombarded with radiation that can break down organic compounds.

Methane is considered the simplest organic molecule.

Referring to the findings regarding organic compounds and methane, Webster said, "They hint at an earlier time on Mars when water was present and the existence of primitive life forms was possible".

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. Over the intervening years, fluid flowing thought it would have initiated chemical reactions that could have destroyed the organic matter - the material discovered may in fact be fragments from bigger molecules. "But it doesn't tell us that life was there".

"You're seeing a factor of three change in the methane in the atmosphere of Mars". And, she says, it gives us an idea where to look.

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