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posted by janrinok on Friday June 08 2018, @04:22PM   Printer-friendly
from the I-want-to-believe dept.

NASA's Curiosity rover has discovered ancient organic molecules on Mars. That plus the methane is strongly suggesting that life may have existed on Mars back when liquid water existed on the surface.

NASA's Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet. While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet's surface and subsurface.

The new findings – "tough" organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface, as well as seasonal variations in the levels of methane in the atmosphere – appear in the June 8 edition of the journal Science.

Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, and also may include oxygen, nitrogen and other elements. While commonly associated with life, organic molecules also can be created by non-biological processes and are not necessarily indicators of life.

"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, in Washington. "I'm confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet."


Original Submission

Related Stories

Complex Organic Molecules Found on Enceladus 4 comments

Saturn moon a step closer to hosting life

Scientists have found complex carbon-based molecules in the waters of Saturn's moon Enceladus.

Compounds like this have only previously been found on Earth, and in some meteorites. They are thought to have formed in reactions between water and warm rock at the base of the moon's subsurface ocean.

Though not a sign of life, their presence suggests Enceladus could play host to living organisms. The discovery came from data gathered by the Cassini spacecraft.

Also at SwRI, ScienceAlert, Space.com, National Geographic, Popular Mechanics, and The Guardian.

Macromolecular organic compounds from the depths of Enceladus (DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0246-4) (DX)

Related: Minerals In Plumes of Enceladus Indicate Hydrothermal Activity
Hydrogen Emitted by Enceladus, More Evidence of Plumes at Europa
Could a Dedicated Mission to Enceladus Detect Microbial Life There?
How the Cassini Mission Led a 'Paradigm Shift' in Search for Alien Life
Cassini Spacecraft Post-Mortem
Porous Core Could be Keeping Enceladus Warm
Yuri Milner Considering Privately Funded Mission to Enceladus
Organic Molecules Found on Ceres
NASA Finds Evidence of Water Plume on Europa
Organic Matter Found on Mars
Study Finds Evidence of More Organic Material on Ceres


Original Submission

Viking Mars Landers' Spectrometers May Have Destroyed Organic Molecules, Preventing Detection 16 comments

NASA may have burned best proof of life on Mars by accident over 40 years ago

Viking landers sent to Mars in 1976 to search for organic matter reported finding nothing, a conclusion that shocked scientists at the time. New research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Planets [DOI: 10.1029/2018JE005544] [DX], suggests the Vikings' main instrument might have actually discovered the organic matter but burned it while collecting soil samples, an article in New Scientist notes.

The primary instrument on the Viking landers, a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer, used heat to try and find these molecules. That was big a mistake. Because of a now-known chemical in the soil perchlorate, the landers would have destroyed any organics in the process. NASA's Phoenix lander found perchlorate on Mars in 2008, Space.com notes.

Perchlorate on Mars.

Previously: Organic Matter Found on Mars

Related: NASA Discovers Evidence for Liquid Water on Mars
UV Radiation and Perchlorates Could be a Toxic Combination for Potential Mars Bacteria
Study Finds Evidence of More Organic Material on Ceres
Complex Organic Molecules Found on Enceladus


Original Submission

Mars Express Orbiter Confirms Methane Emissions From the Surface of Mars 12 comments

Mars methane surge spotted from space

A European spacecraft has confirmed a report of methane being released from the surface of Mars.

The methane spike was first measured by Nasa's Curiosity rover on the surface; now it has been confirmed by the Mars Express orbiter.

The nature and extent of methane in the Martian atmosphere is intensely debated.

The gas is of interest because terrestrial methane can be made by life forms, as well as geological processes.

Methane is only supposed to have a very short lifetime in the Martian atmosphere, so detecting it there means it must have been released very recently.

Also at NYT.

Previously: NASA Rover Discovers Mysterious Martian Methane Emissions
Remember the Discovery of Methane in the Martian Atmosphere? Now Scientists Can't Find Any Evidence

Related: Organic Matter Found on Mars


Original Submission

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by SomeGuy on Friday June 08 2018, @04:30PM (3 children)

    by SomeGuy (5632) on Friday June 08 2018, @04:30PM (#690379)

    But did they use AI to find it?!

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Gaaark on Friday June 08 2018, @04:36PM

      by Gaaark (41) on Friday June 08 2018, @04:36PM (#690383) Journal

      I wonder if the spot it was found was the front line in some Martian war?

      --
      --- Please remind me if I haven't been civil to you: I'm channeling MDC. ---Gaaark 2.0 ---
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @06:46PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @06:46PM (#690444)

      I can't trust the results unless it's on a blockchain!

      • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Friday June 08 2018, @07:22PM

        by bob_super (1357) on Friday June 08 2018, @07:22PM (#690459)

        (beat me to it)

        We're investing billions to find life on Mars, because The Street demands growth and we're gonna run out of humans to fill social media behavior databases.

  • (Score: 2, Offtopic) by Gaaark on Friday June 08 2018, @04:35PM (5 children)

    by Gaaark (41) on Friday June 08 2018, @04:35PM (#690382) Journal

    Organic Matter?
    Was it dark matter? Did they FINALLY find dark matter?

    Yay! Now we can start to put that bunk behind us.
    :P

    --
    --- Please remind me if I haven't been civil to you: I'm channeling MDC. ---Gaaark 2.0 ---
    • (Score: 3, Funny) by Freeman on Friday June 08 2018, @04:55PM (3 children)

      by Freeman (732) on Friday June 08 2018, @04:55PM (#690401) Journal

      I dunno, but I've got plenty of dark matter in my garden.

      --
      Joshua 1:9 "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee"
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @10:06PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @10:06PM (#690544)

        That isn't a garden. It's Uranus!

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @11:44PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @11:44PM (#690592)

          Those are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

      • (Score: 2) by realDonaldTrump on Friday June 08 2018, @11:54PM

        by realDonaldTrump (6614) on Friday June 08 2018, @11:54PM (#690597) Homepage Journal

        My daughter loves to eat organic. And NASA found organic, that's great. But unfortunately it's not locally grown. Not for folks in NY & Washington. Keep trying!!!!

    • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @05:01PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @05:01PM (#690405)

      Yes, and they beat it up and arrested it.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Snow on Friday June 08 2018, @04:44PM (5 children)

    by Snow (1601) on Friday June 08 2018, @04:44PM (#690388) Journal

    How many stories have there been about methane found on mars? Oodles!

    From what we know, mars was once much nicer than it is now. On Earth, we find life virtually everywhere. I suspect that once we can get some samples back from mars (or have an actual lab on mars), we will find life there too.

    I would be shocked if mars was completely sterile. I also think that the lift we do end up finding on mars will be almost identical to life found on earth (ie. it will fit into our existing classification systems).

    But then again, I don't really know anything about biology or geology. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Friday June 08 2018, @05:03PM (4 children)

      by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Friday June 08 2018, @05:03PM (#690406) Journal

      Basically, TFS and TFA say, "Hey, we found a hydrocarbon on Mars!" An indicator that we already knew existed. Now - if/when they find CHO compounds undergoing some chemical changes, some excitement may be justified. Maybe. A CHO compound is probably an indicator that there is life around, and watching it undergo some kind of chemical reaction will probably reveal that life. Then again - maybe not. We can't yet rule out the possibility that CHO's form and then oxidize in the absence of life. Not yet, anyway.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @05:18PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @05:18PM (#690410)

        There are lakes of hydrocarbon on Titan.

        https://principia-scientific.org/nasa-finds-lakes-of-hydrocarbons-on-saturn-s-moon-titan/ [principia-scientific.org]

      • (Score: 3, Informative) by frojack on Friday June 08 2018, @05:51PM

        by frojack (1554) on Friday June 08 2018, @05:51PM (#690421) Journal

        "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, in Washington.

        Did anyone think the Administrator would say anything else?

        Seriously, this finding was telegraphed, then embargoed, then announced with great fanfare. Just like the blueberries, which were also signs of life. Molecules buried in rock. In all these years, nothing approximating a fossil of moss or even a sea bed slime.

        OK. Molecules in rocks. But it seems a tad over-hyped if you ask me. A budget play?

        --
        No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @10:17PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @10:17PM (#690549)

        One fine day a fucking dog will appear barking at the rover's camera with the highest resolution and NASA will say they can't confirm or deny the presence of life on Mars

        • (Score: 2) by pvanhoof on Saturday June 09 2018, @10:30AM

          by pvanhoof (4638) on Saturday June 09 2018, @10:30AM (#690734) Homepage

          If the dog is fucking, then the camera will probably detect another dog too.

  • (Score: 4, Touché) by requerdanos on Friday June 08 2018, @04:46PM (8 children)

    by requerdanos (5997) Subscriber Badge on Friday June 08 2018, @04:46PM (#690391) Journal

    With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course..." said Thomas Zurbuchen... at NASA Headquarters, in Washington.

    I am pretty sure that "I hear Mars speaking to me" is a symptom of a psychiatric disorder.

    And if not, then what was Mars "telling you" when the when the Mars Climate Orbiter [nasa.gov] burned up entering the Martian atmosphere or when the Mars Polar Lander [thecanadianencyclopedia.ca] crashed in flames? "Go die in a fireball?"

    I humbly suggest we, as a space-going people, not ascribe anthropomorphic statements to low-survivability planets in general, that we not be discouraged by what they predominantly have to say.

    • (Score: 4, Informative) by Runaway1956 on Friday June 08 2018, @04:53PM (1 child)

      by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Friday June 08 2018, @04:53PM (#690398) Journal

      LOL - Mars has spoken to a lot of people over the centuries. He is the God of War, after all.

      • (Score: 2) by Gaaark on Friday June 08 2018, @09:21PM

        by Gaaark (41) on Friday June 08 2018, @09:21PM (#690514) Journal

        He is the God of War

        REALLY? Shit...wonder if he's got WMD? Yup! There's a picture of a lander Rocket Launcher! Let's invade Mars NOW!
        ---George Bush

        --
        --- Please remind me if I haven't been civil to you: I'm channeling MDC. ---Gaaark 2.0 ---
    • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Friday June 08 2018, @05:07PM (5 children)

      by Grishnakh (2831) on Friday June 08 2018, @05:07PM (#690408)

      Well for the polar lander, the Wikipedia page says that chronic underfunding and mismanagement were the underlying causes of failure there. So maybe Mars is telling us to stop being so incompetent about management and funding.

      And the climate orbiter I think was the one that failed because the teams didn't know what units they were using (one metric, one English, with the data given without any units, and the units merely assumed). So on that one, maybe Mars is telling us to not be stupid and to stop using archaic measurement systems and to always specify units no matter what system you're using (this is something I was taught in first-year engineering school!!!).

      • (Score: 2) by frojack on Friday June 08 2018, @05:54PM (1 child)

        by frojack (1554) on Friday June 08 2018, @05:54PM (#690422) Journal

        Mars is telling us to not be stupid and to stop using archaic measurement systems

        A few molecules telling us all that?

        Don't anthropomorphize molecules. They hate it when you do that.

        --
        No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
        • (Score: 3, Touché) by Immerman on Friday June 08 2018, @06:11PM

          by Immerman (3985) on Friday June 08 2018, @06:11PM (#690430)

          Do you really? After all, you're just a bunch of molecules...

      • (Score: 2) by requerdanos on Friday June 08 2018, @06:18PM (1 child)

        by requerdanos (5997) Subscriber Badge on Friday June 08 2018, @06:18PM (#690434) Journal

        Well for the polar lander [due to] underfunding and mismanagement [then] maybe Mars is telling us to stop being so incompetent about management and funding...And the climate [due to metric/english units] maybe Mars is telling us to not be stupid and to stop using archaic measurement systems and to always specify units

        So in that vein, for Curiosity's mission to determine habitability and life factors eventually finding hydrocarbons in 2018 after landing in 2012, it is maybe saying "Years after your lander was supposed to be long dead, you finally found some molecules that might be interesting and might not."

        I can actually see hearing that as "stay the course", like Zurbuchen did. It's encouraging. And maybe the fiery deaths of the polar and climate landers were saying "Mars could use some global warming", which would sure make it more comfortable for explorers, settlers, and castaways from Earth.

        • (Score: 2) by Gaaark on Friday June 08 2018, @09:32PM

          by Gaaark (41) on Friday June 08 2018, @09:32PM (#690523) Journal

          Wouldn't it be funny if after all this time, the lander is dead and they've got an AI computer in some room feeding the other computers fake data showing results.

          NASA: "Yeah...we got nothing, but we gotta keep funding coming, sooooooo....." plugs in computer.
          Roy: "We set up a voice activation system on your computer... i think you're going to like it...might just take a while to get the pitch right on the voice but none the less, go ahead."
          NASA: Exciting! Hello....hello computer....

          --
          --- Please remind me if I haven't been civil to you: I'm channeling MDC. ---Gaaark 2.0 ---
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @07:00PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @07:00PM (#690447)

        You use units in binary encoded transmissions? So 4 bytes for the value and ?? bytes for the unit name? ouch.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @07:52PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @07:52PM (#690469)

    NASA believes in vitalism [wikipedia.org] now?

  • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Friday June 08 2018, @07:57PM (6 children)

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Friday June 08 2018, @07:57PM (#690473) Journal

    If somehow a human were to come into contact with organic life from Mars, what are the possibilities that it can have a detrimental effect on human life?

    --
    With modern TVs you don't have to worry about braking the yolk on the back of the picture tube.
    • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @08:04PM (5 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08 2018, @08:04PM (#690476)

      It could be CO2 ("organic" just means "has carbon in it"), in which case it would bake them to a crisp upon contact.

      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Friday June 08 2018, @09:26PM (2 children)

        by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Friday June 08 2018, @09:26PM (#690518) Journal

        DannyB said organic life, not organic matter/molecules.

        My guess is that interplanetary microbes that haven't evolved near humans won't be harmful. The diseases that isolated human populations have spread between themselves throughout history were still evolving alongside humans on either end.

        --
        [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
        • (Score: 3, Informative) by choose another one on Friday June 08 2018, @09:50PM (1 child)

          by choose another one (515) Subscriber Badge on Friday June 08 2018, @09:50PM (#690533)

          > My guess is that interplanetary microbes that haven't evolved near humans won't be harmful.

          My guess is that they won't be "directly" harmful because they haven't evolved near earth-life, however, precisely _because_ they haven't evolved along with earth life or in earth environment they may have very different metabolisms and biochemistry, and some of the chemicals they produce or rely on or excrete may well be harmful. Consider clostridium botulinum as an earth bound example - it ain't the bacteria that gets you its the neurotoxin it produces. My gut feeling is that this type of thing is far more likely than an attack from the microbe itself.

          • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Monday June 11 2018, @02:45PM

            by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Monday June 11 2018, @02:45PM (#691413) Journal

            Thank you. That is an excellent answer.

            I'm thinking that some other life, based on long chain hydrocarbons can probably eat us, and we can eat them. Maybe not all. But it would seem likely that some could be. If not most. I'm no biologist or organic chemist (software developer here), but it seems that organic chemistry, with the same periodic table, probably works the same everywhere. (Hey, 19th century chemistry works on Mars! Who knew!) Long chain hydrocarbons are formed. More and more complex molecules are formed. Eventually amino acids. Proteins. And up and up to bigger and better structures until you get to DNA.

            These atoms only form certain molecules. These molecules only fit together certain ways. All planets start out with the same periodic table of Lego bricks. If you keep jumbling the Lego bricks together in an endless ocean stew, you eventually form the same things.

            --
            With modern TVs you don't have to worry about braking the yolk on the back of the picture tube.
      • (Score: 2) by realDonaldTrump on Friday June 08 2018, @11:51PM (1 child)

        by realDonaldTrump (6614) on Friday June 08 2018, @11:51PM (#690593) Homepage Journal

        They have INCREDIBLE amounts of CO2 on Mars. They have it coming out the yin-yang. Like you've never seen in your entire life. But it's VERY COLD there. Believe me, you could freeze your ass off in the hottest hottest places. Let me tell you, they could use some of that good old global warming. Think about it!!!!

        • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Monday June 11 2018, @02:46PM

          by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Monday June 11 2018, @02:46PM (#691414) Journal

          The SLS could be used to bring some of that great CO2 back here to Earth.

          --
          With modern TVs you don't have to worry about braking the yolk on the back of the picture tube.
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