Today, NASA announced the results of two major studies about Mars. NASA announced that the Curiosity Rover detected organic material on Mars as well as seasonal changes of methane in the atmosphere.
The studies are “breakthroughs in astrobiology,” according to astrobiologist Inge Loes ten Kate.
What does this mean?
Methane is one of the simplest organic molecules, and forms the base for natural gas. As I mentioned yesterday, here on Earth, most of the methane is produced from biological processes - life. It's possible that the methane on Mars could be a result of life that exists or existed on Mars. Right now, we don't know enough, because it's also possible that the Methane could be from geological processes (something the Mars InSight lander could potentially help explain).
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According to Futurism:
After analyzing more than four years’ worth of data about how much methane was in Mars’s atmosphere in a given month, the NASA researchers figured out that the methane was likely coming from frozen pockets of ice, called methane clathrates (theyoccur on Earth, too). This would explain why methane levels are higher during the Martian summer: the ice melts a little, and methane slips out.
There’s a chance this methane, frozen for millennia in ice, was first made by life. But there are other ways methane can be produced, so it’s hard to say for sure what this discovery means in the search for life on Mars.
NASA released a video describing the findings in more detail:
The second study took samples of rock on Mars, heated them, and organic molecules were found that were consistent with sedimentary rock on Earth that has organic material in it.
The area that the rocks were found in was a lake bed about three billion years ago. The carbon compounds that were found could have been food for life that existed at the time.
Does this mean we found signs of life on Mars?
Maybe? We don't have enough information to make such a declaration right now. But this is pretty damn close to being able to say we found life on a planet other than Earth.
“The detection of organic molecules and methane on Mars has far-ranging implications in the light of potential past life on Mars,” astrobiologist Inge Loes ten Kate wrote in a Perspective published in the same issue of Science. “Curiosity has shown that Gale crater was habitable around 3.5 billion years ago, with conditions comparable to those on the early Earth, where life evolved around that time.”
“The [question of] whether life might have originated or existed on Mars is a lot more opportune now we know that organic molecules were present on its surface at that time,” she added.
Curiosity has been puttering around inside Gale Crater on Mars, moving at a blistering pace of about 0.08699 miles per hour (0.13999 kilometers per hour).