The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Mars Curiosity rover has made several groundbreaking discoveries ever since it landed on the Red Planet back in 2012. The latest in line is the discovery of organic compounds – molecules containing carbon and hydrogen, along with other elements- in rocks of Mars.
The rover drilled about 2 inches (5 cm) into a 3.5 billion-year-old fine-grained sedimentary rock in Gale crater, which was once home to streams and lakes of liquid water. This evidence is an indication that ancient life may have once existed on the Red Planet. The discovery suggests that conditions on Mars could once have been like those currently on Earth.
NASA’s Jennifer Eigenbrode and his international team of scientists used Discovery’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument to examine samples that had been gathered from Mars’ Gale crater. What Sam does is that it heats rock samples to release any organic compounds that may be present. The emitted gases are then analyzed using a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer and a laser spectrometer.
It is believed that the presence of an organic compound in Mars rocks could likely have been produced by ancient life. However, there are also chances that the molecules were created in the complete absence of life.
“Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules,” said Eigenbrode. “Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes.”
In short, the mere presence of organic molecules on Mars is not a 100 percent proof of life on the planet, but with the new evidence, the possibility certainly can’t be completely ruled out. So, NASA scientists want to keep searching for more evidence of life on Mars.
The research findings have been detailed in two papers in the journal Science.