NASA Mars Rover announcement: What did NASA find on the Red Planet?

NASA conference Mars Curiosity Rover

A Nasa rover has detected a bonanza of organic compounds on the surface of the planet and seasonal fluctuations of atmospheric methane, in findings that mark some of the strongest evidence ever that Earth's neighbour may have harboured life.

The material was found after the rover drilled into the surface of a 3.5 billion-year-old mudstone at the bottom of the Gale crater.

NASA announced the discoveries in a livestream this afternoon, saying Curiosity found the latest evidence for ancient life on Mars in rocks.

In the second paper, scientists describe the discovery of seasonal variations in methane in the Martian atmosphere over the course of nearly three Mars years, which is almost six Earth years.

Although there is not enough information to know whether the carbon molecules were created by biological or non-biological processes, it is possible that they could be a source of methane, Dr Eigenbrode said.

Since it landed at the Gale Crater in 2012, the Curiosity Rover has been sniffing out methane in the area.

The discoveries, reported today in two papers in the journal Science, while not evidence of life, provide more tantalising clues about what's happening on Mars, for future missions to investigate. 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. Certainly, there are geological processes that could make methane levels change over the Martian year, she said. 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.

Jennifer Eigenbrode, an astrobiologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who led the organics study, said she's intrigued by the possibility that life might have existed and adapted on Mars.

Whether anywhere other than Earth has harboured life, perhaps even in microbial form, is one of the paramount questions in science. Methane is another organic molecule.

A 2018 self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on Vera Rubin Ridge, made up of a composite of photo from the rover.

Organic molecules are the building blocks of life. It has been tacking across the floor of Gale Crater on Mars for five years, returning stunning images of Martian landscapes, with vistas opening up to show rocky outcrops seamed with mineral veins.

The most exciting news is that the changes definitely match the Martian seasons, hitting a peak at the end of summer in the northern hemisphere. No one knows what's making this methane, but scientists speculate that it's released from underground pockets. The methane could even be trapped in water-based crystals beneath the surface.

"There were a lot of people who thought we weren't going to find all the organic molecules that we did", Eigenbrode said. Such incremental progress is the whole point of NASA's Mars exploration program, Freissinet notes.

"We don't know, but these results tell us we are on the right track"'. The livestream should kick off shortly before the press conference is scheduled to begin, and as with all NASA events it will be live streamed so we can all enjoy it from the comfort of our office desks.

"We have no proof that the methane is formed biologically, but we can not rule it out, even with this new data set", Webster said.

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