NASA's Curiosity Rover Finds 'Ancient Organic Materials' Hidden Inside of Mars Rocks
And now we know what exactly they'd found: NASA's Curiosity rover has just uncovered several "building blocks of life" while drilling into Martian rocks, uncovering organic molecules containing carbon in the process. Beyond this, it's also found seasonal methane in the atmosphere, which could also potentially be related to life on the planet.
As the name implies, organic molecules are crucial components in life as we know it. Since these organic molecules were taken from rocks which are billions of years old, it's a crucial sign that ancient Mars could indeed support life. However, before anyone goes too crazy, this is not explicit evidence of life on the Red Planet.
Oh, these are #organics in my neighborhood... Methane swells each summer and ancient carbon-compounds locked in rocks. I haven't found life on Mars, but signs say…we're on the right track. https://t.co/hqunXt76og pic.twitter.com/ownp0modD4— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) June 7, 2018
It's not direct evidence because simply seeing the "building blocks of life" is not the same as seeing life, in the same way that finding a bunch of loose bricks is not the same as finding a house. Likewise, the detected methane, which comes primarily from humans here on Earth, has other possible origins as well.
But this is still a very important find, because the organics mean that Mars could have supported life easily, since there was so much food for them lying around. And that's reason enough to be excited, and NASA is now more reinvigorated than ever to continue searching for life on Mars.
After all, when you combine these new organics with the clear evidence that Mars once had water - Curiosity dug up these organics in Gale Crater, which is very likely an ancient lakebed that's long dried up - a bigger picture of a very Earth-like and inhabited world starts to form in our knowledge about ancient Mars.
According to Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, who said the following in a statement:
Curiosity analyzed both the organics and the methane using its Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments, and it's possible the organics could have been found slightly earlier. For a very long time, Curiosity's drill had been busted, and since simply repairing an off-world rover isn't an option, it took months to think of a solution.
A workaround was finally tested just recently and succeeded with flying colors, and Curiosity could finally start drilling into Martian rock. So it's nice to see that working again, but the big takeaway is this: as we continue looking for more direct evidence of life on Mars, we seem to be on the right track.