NASA reveals new discoveries suggesting there was once life on Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover has uncovered organic material in an ancient lakebed and confirmed a seasonal cycle of methane - offering the strongest evidence yet of potential life, past or even present, on the Red Planet.

"Are there signs of life on Mars?" said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program, at NASA Headquarters. The new organic molecule findings are 100 times greater than those previously found on Mars' surface, according to the agency.

And the seasonal methane pulse is perhaps, maybe, possibly - but far, far from certainly - the sort of signal Curiosity might detect if life did form back then and was still around somewhere, ten Kate said.

They don't exactly roll off the tongue, but researchers believe that these are fragments of larger molecules that were present on Mars billions of years ago.

NASA is holding a live conference unveiling the fascinating details it has uncovered Mars from its Curiosity Rover mission. "Finding ancient organic molecules in the top 5 centimeters of rock that was deposited when Mars may have been habitable bodes well for us to learn the story of organic molecules on Mars with future missions that will drill deeper".

The traces of methane on Mars are tantalizing to biologists eager for evidence of life.

The new findings are also detailed in two studies published Thursday in the journal Science.

NASA now operates three orbiters and two surface rovers at Mars with a new lander - InSight - on the way. Other processes that have nothing to do with living organisms can create organic compounds as well.

"There's three possible sources for the organic material", said astrobiologist Jennifer Eigenbrode of Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

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"Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules", Eigenbrode said in the release.

One thing is for sure, though - whatever we can figure out about the chemistry of Mars, it's nearly certainly going to add precious details to our understanding of life in the cosmos.

What they can't say yet is whether there is, or ever was, life on the Red Planet.

"With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life", NASA science mission chief Thomas Zurbuchen told USA Today.

The rover was able to heat the samples to between 932 and 1508 degrees Fahrenheit and study the organic molecules released through gas analysis. They are fairly certain that it comes from melting water-based crystals, called clathrates, buried just below the planet's surface. Now, Curiosity has discovered ancient organics that have been preserved in rocks for billions of years.

A French-built instrument revealed "several organic molecules and volatiles reminiscent of organic-rich sedimentary rock found on Earth, including: thiophene, 2- and 3-methylthiophenes, methanethiol, and dimethylsulfide", said the Science report.

"The idea that best fits our data is the idea of sub-surface storage", he said. This is also when life was evolving on our own planet.

"That would be exciting because if that is done within two years, NASA can send a mission specifically to that place", he said. The host of the session, assistant director of science for communications in NASA's Planetary Science Division Michelle Thaller, began by clearing up any rumors that the agency would announce that they had found alien life.

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