The Curiosity rover of NASA discovered new data from the Mars rocks suggesting that this planet could’ve supported ancient life, as well as new data concerning the atmosphere on Mars related to the search for current life.
Although not an evidence of life, these findings are important for the upcoming missions that are focused on exploring its surface and subsurface.
Could Have Life on Mars Been a Thing in Ancient Times?
The new findings include strong organic molecules discovered in sedimentary rocks from three billion years ago near its surface and seasonal variations in methane levels.
The organic molecules have carbon and hydrogen and may also contain nitrogen, oxygen, and other elements. Although they’re usually linked with life, organic molecules may also be made by non-biological processes and aren’t life-indicators only.
Still, according to Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, this new data is a sign to keep their course and continue their search for life evidence.
He’s confident that their ongoing missions will discover even more amazing things on Mars.
However, Curiosity didn’t determine the source of these organic molecules, says Jen Eigenbrode, lead author of one of the two new Science papers and part of the Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA.
However, he explains that the organic matter has chemical clues to the processes and conditions of the planet.
Despite being inhospitable today, the evidence is clear that in distant past, the planet’s climate allowed liquid water, an essential life ingredient.
Curiosity data unveiled that billions years ago, a water lake in the Gale Crater had the necessary life ingredients, included sources of energy and chemical building blocks.
The Data about Seasonal Release of Methane
In the other paper, the scientists described the finding of variations in methane in the atmosphere on Mars over three Mars years, equal to almost six years on Earth.
The methane may have been generated by the water and rock chemistry; however, the scientists can’t rule out the possibility of biological origin. In the past, methane has been found on Mars’s atmosphere in large plumes.
This new data shows that the low levels in the Gale Crater constantly increases in the warmer months and reduces in the colder ones.
This is a first repeatable thing in the methane story, according to the lead author Chris Webster.
They achieved this thanks to the longevity of the Curiosity which allowed the team to see the patterns in the ‘seasonal breathing’.