Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars
Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet may have supported life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet. While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet’s surface and subsurface.
“Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules,” said Jen Eigenbrode of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “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.”
Curiosity landed on Mars on Aug. 6, 2012 with a mission to determine whether the Red Planet ever harbored life or had conditions suitable for life. The car-sized rover hasn’t found direct evidence of biological activity, but in 2013 it discovered that liquid water and the chemical ingredients for life once existed on Mars.
“The chances of being able to find signs of ancient life with future missions, if life ever was present, just went up,” said Curiosity’s project scientist, Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
NASA deems the Curiosity the “largest and most capable” rover ever to make contact with Mars. It has a seven-foot-long arm, carries 10 science instruments, 17 cameras and a laser to “vaporize” rocks.
Curiosity has determined that methane is emitted from below the surface of Mars seasonally. This means that the planet is not dead despite previous scientific hypotheses.
Curiosity has found organic matter in mud-stone sample that is at least 3 billion years old. The molecules are small, and could come from a variety of sources including meteorites, volcanoes or life.
The new organic molecule findings are 100 times greater than those previously found on Mars’ surface, according to the NASA.
Methane is a signature of biological activity on Earth. So since methane was first detected on Mars, There’s been lots of excitement. Could this methane be produced biologically? Could it be produced by subsurface microbes?
It may be microbes, either living currently on Mars or from an ancient past. Or the methane could be made by rock-forming processes that have nothing to do with biological life. Figuring out the source would be amazing. If it’s life, that’s a key indication that life is ubiquitous,. If it’s not life, that’s also important because Mars is geochemically active, which is new information about another planet.
Mars is not dead despite previous hypotheses and that signs of ancient life can be preserved. They join a now-extensive list of findings that hint at life on the Red Planet made by Curiosity since it landed in August 2012.
The rover currently is climbing Mount Sharp, a 3.4-mile-high peak in the crater, in the hopes of determining how the Red Planet transformed from a wet world to its current arid form.
In May, Curiosity started drilling for rock samples for the first time since October 2016 after a mechanical problem took the drill offline, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at California Institute of Technology.
Back in February, NASA shared an amazing panoramic view of the rover’s entire 11-mile journey on the planet. When sharing these images and videos, the space agency said it also received the largest amount of data and images it had ever received from the rover.
The Mars 2020 rover will scan the Red Planet for signs of ancient life by studying terrain that once consisted of flowing rivers and lakes more than 3.5 billion years ago.
Video Credit NASA