NASA robot finds 'building blocks for life' on Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover has discovered ancient organic molecules on Mars embedded within sedimentary rocks that are billions of years old. Image NASA  GSFC

NASA robot finds 'building blocks for life' on Mars

A NASA robot has found more building blocks for life on Mars, the most complex organic matter yet from 3.5 billion-year-old rocks on the surface of the red planet, the United States space agency said on Thursday.

It's been six years since the Mars rover Curiosity landed on the Red Planet, and now it seems that the space vehicle has some news to share.

So, at present, this new information may not be a strong indicator of the presence of life on Mars at present, or somewhere during its past, it does provide a starting point for further Mars missions, NASA is planning on sending new Mars missions that will search for signs of life on the planet's surface and also below its surface.

Humayan is a professor of geochemistry at Florida State Univeristy and on staff at the FSU-headquartered National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.

The discovery, published on Thursday by the journal Science, is longtime in the making.

The unmanned Curiosity rover has also found increasing evidence for seasonal variations of methane on Mars, indicating the source of the gas is likely the planet itself, or possibly its subsurface water.

Organic molecules containing chlorine were detected on Mars before.

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In the mudstone that formed billions of years ago at the bottom of a lake, Curiosity discovered organic molecules, including thiophenes, benzene, toluene, and small carbon chains like propane or butane. "That pessimistic possibility that has lurked as a fear at the back of everyone's minds may just have been changed forever".

The new observations have increased the inventory of known Mars organics and "are more consistent with what we would expect if the organics were from life, from meteorites or from geological processes", Eigenbrode added. The organic molecules he found in 2012 are comparable to those found by Curiosity.

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

While neither of these discoveries are direct indications of there having been life on Mars, the scientists are taking them as good signs to continue digging.

Curiosity discovered Methane in the atmosphere of Mars that displayed a "tenfold spike" on previous findings. "We are on the right track!"

She said that although the surface of Mars is presently "inhospitable", indications are that in the distant past the Martian climate allowed liquid water to exist on the planet's surface. Kate told Live Science that it is a big deal to find organic compounds in rocks aged 3.5 billion years. "That gives me great hope because we can perhaps get past these surface environments that are so harsh and maybe [go] a little deeper and find better-preserved materials".

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