While we know that Mars was habitable in the past, the case demonstrates just how hard it will be to ever prove the existence of past life on its surface. When they did experiments in their laboratory on Earth to bake samples containing those three types of organic carbon, the readings were all consistent with what was detected on Mars.
Findings from Curiosity also reveal that a water lake inside Mars" Gale Crater once held all the "ingredients necessary for life", including "chemical building blocks and energy sources'. Organic matter can be one of several things: a record detailing ancient life, a food source for life or something that exists in the place of life.
Curiosity also measured an unexpectedly large seasonal cycle in the low levels of atmospheric methane. The rover has returned a lot of fascinating science, but its latest discovery offers the best evidence yet for life on Mars. "We also don't know if that methane was created from rock chemistry or it was created by microbes".
These are exciting findings, published as twin papers in the journal Science today (June 7). However, finding organic material in such abundance suggests that it potentially has biological origins-either from bacteria or other forms of life that existed long ago. The Martian surface is bombarded with radiation that can degrade organic compounds, explains Eigenbrode. What do we stand to gain from these missions anyway?
The scientists behind experiments conducted by the Curiosity rover are today reporting two results that make the Red Planet's story even more interesting.
"With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.
Over five years, Curiosity has used its Tunable Laser Spectrometer to measure methane in the atmosphere at the Gale crater.
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Some of the new science instruments included on the next Mars rover include an X-ray spectrometer, ultraviolet laser, excited rings of carbon atoms, and a ground-penetrating radar that will allow the space agency to look under the surface of Mars up to 30 feet deep depending on terrain. 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.
Dr Webster said the data pointed to methane trapped in water-based crystals deep under the planet's surface, which slowly seep to the surface when temperatures rise.
"It could be from rock processes", processes that have been going on during the billions of years since Mars formed.
But National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists emphasized there could be nonbiological explanations for both discoveries made by the Curiosity rover at a site called Gale crater, leaving the issue of Martian life a tantalizing but unanswered question.
There's enough ambient carbon and hydrogen in the solar system that they react to form basic organic compounds pretty frequently, even without biology involved, ten Kate said.
All of the outside sources I spoke with said it's important to be skeptical about claims of life, extinct or otherwise, on the Red Planet.