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Tech & Science Building Blocks of Life Found on Mars

11:33  08 june  2018
11:33  08 june  2018 Source:   nationalgeographic.com

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No life found . That could be the case on Mars , too, NASA said in a statement this week. But the space agency carefully points out that methane can also come from inanimate sources as well. These building blocks of life could have formed on Mars , or meteorites could have brought them there.

Organic compounds containing carbon and hydrogen form the building blocks of all life on Earth. Now, scientists have found the same on Mars . The scientists at the United States-based Carnegie Institution's geophysical laboratory have conducted a research and found for the first time that

Day to day, it’s easy to lose sight of an astonishing fact: Since 2012, humankind has been driving a nuclear-powered sciencemobile the size of an SUV on another planet.

This engineering marvel, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, has revolutionized our understanding of the red planet. And thanks to the intrepid rover, we now know that ancient Mars had carbon-based compounds called organic molecules—key raw materials for life as we know it.

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The surprise discovery of perchlorates by the Phoenix mission on Mars 32 years later could mean the way the Viking experiment was set up actually would have destroyed any carbon-based chemical building blocks of life – what the experiment set about to try and find .

“This implies that building blocks of life can form on cold rocky planets throughout the Universe.” “Our finding sets the stage for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission in 2009,” remarked Steele, who is a member of the Sample Analysis on Mars (SAM) instrument team onboard MSL.

NASA's Curiosity rover drilled this two-inch-deep hole in a Martian rock as part of its examinations of the red planet's soil composition. © Photograph by NASA NASA's Curiosity rover drilled this two-inch-deep hole in a Martian rock as part of its examinations of the red planet's soil composition.

A new study published in Science on Thursday presents the first conclusive evidence for large organic molecules on the surface of Mars, a pursuit that began with NASA’s Viking landers in the 1970s. Earlier tests may have hinted at organics, but the presence of chlorine in martian dirt complicated those interpretations.

“When you work with something as crazy as a rover on Mars, with the most complex instrument ever sent to space, it seems like we’re doing what may have been perceived earlier as impossible,” says lead author Jennifer Eigenbrode, a biogeochemist at NASA Goddard. “I work with an amazing group of people on Mars, and we have discovered so much.”

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  Life on Mars? Rover's Latest Discovery Puts It 'On the Table' The identification of organic molecules in rocks on the red planet does not necessarily point to life there, past or present, but does indicate that some of the building blocks were present.Scientists for the first time have confidently identified on Mars a collection of carbon molecules used and produced by living organisms.

Not proof of life . The results don't prove that life exists — or ever existed — on Mars . But the prospect of Martian life may be a bit more likely now, since Viking seemingly found life 's building blocks in the planet's red dirt more than three decades ago.

A new study finds these building blocks could have formed very early in the history of Mars . It's been said by some scientists to contain direct signs of life on Mars , but that conclusion has been hotly debated for years.

Curiosity's latest data reveal that the watery lake that once filled Mars’s Gale Crater contained complex organic molecules about 3.5 billion years ago. Hints of them are still preserved in sulfur-spiked rocks derived from lake sediments. Sulfur may have helped protect the organics even when the rocks were exposed at the surface to radiation and bleach-like substances called perchlorates.

By themselves, the new results aren't evidence for ancient life on Mars; non-living processes could have yielded identical molecules. At a minimum, the study shows how traces of bygone martians could have survived for eons—if they existed at all—and it hints at where future rovers might look for them.

“This is an important finding,” says Samuel Kounaves, a Tufts University chemist and former lead scientist for NASA's Phoenix Mars lander. “There are locations, especially subsurface, where organic molecules are well-preserved.”

NASA Curiosity Rover Finds Building Blocks of Life on Mars

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VIDEO: Did a Meteorite Finally Reveal Life on Mars ? NEWS: Leak in Curiosity's Wet Chemistry Test Finds Organics. Nitrogen is essential for all known forms of life , since it is used in the building blocks of larger molecules like DNA and RNA, which encode the genetic instructions for life , and proteins

Scientists with NASA are thrilled to announce that, after spending over 2 years exploring Mars , its Curiosity rover has finally detected the presence of organic molecules like the ones that birthed terrestrial life on this planet.

Seasons of Methane

a horse in a field: Rocks line an ancient channel where water may have once flowed on Mars. © Photograph by NASA Rocks line an ancient channel where water may have once flowed on Mars.

In addition to ancient carbon, Curiosity has caught whiffs of organics that exist on Mars today. The rover has periodically sniffed Mars’s atmosphere since it landed, and in late 2014, researchers using these data showed that methane—the simplest organic molecule—is present in Mars’s atmosphere.

Methane’s presence on Mars is puzzling, because it survives only a few hundred years at a time, which means that somehow, something on the red planet keeps replenishing it. “It’s a gas in the atmosphere of Mars that really shouldn’t be there," says NASA Jet Propulsion Lab scientist Chris Webster.

In addition, methane's observed behavior on Mars is bizarre. In 2009, researchers reported that inexplicable martian plumes randomly belch out thousands of tons of methane at a time.

Webster’s latest study, also published today in Science, shows that Mars seasonally “breathes” the stuff. Each martian summer, the atmosphere’s methane concentration rises to about 0.6 parts per billion. In the winter, this count ebbs by a factor of three to 0.2 parts per billion.

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"Because borates may play an important role in making RNA—one of the building blocks of life — finding boron on Mars further opens the possibility that life could have once arisen on the planet," said Patrick Gasda

Scientists have found a potential building block for life in a Martian meteorite recovered from Antarctica. After reading Benner's paper, Stephenson asked a geologist colleague if any of the Mars meteorites recovered on Earth had been analyzed for boron.

“We don’t have seasonal variations in many molecules in Earth’s atmosphere, so to have a planet have seasonal variations in chemistry is very otherworldly,” says Eigenbrode. “It’s an astounding observation.”

Webster and his colleagues suspect that the methane comes from deep underground, and temperature swings on Mars’s surface throttle its flow upward. In the winter, the gas could get trapped underground in icy crystals called clathrates, which may melt in the summer and free the gas.

But what’s making the methane? Nobody knows.

“We really can’t tell if this methane we see today is a current product of serpentinization [a chemical reaction between iron-bearing rocks and liquid water] or microbial activity at some depth,” says Michael Mumma, the NASA Goddard scientist who discovered Mars’s methane plumes. “Or is it something that is stored from an ancient time that’s being slowly released?”

Still Looking for Life

Experts have hailed the two new studies as milestones for astrobiology.

“It’s incredibly exciting, because it shows that Mars is an active planet today,” says Caltech planetary scientist Bethany Ehlmann, a Mars expert who wasn’t involved with the studies. “It’s not cold and dead—it’s perhaps hovering right on the edge of habitability.”

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Not only did ALH84001 help determine that the building blocks of life actually did form on early Mars , but also that those same building blocks have The Carnegie-led team made a comprehensive study of the ALH 84001 meteorite and compared the results with data from related rocks found on Svalbard

SAN FRANCISCO — NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has found organic chemicals — the carbon-containing building blocks of life — on the Red Planet. The discovery is not evidence that life exists, or has ever existed, on Mars , researchers stressed.

But Webster and others stress that the studies themselves aren't evidence for life on Mars: “The observations we see do not rule out the possibility of biological activity, [but] it’s not a smoking gun for it.”

To get firmer answers, researchers will need to get equipment to Mars that’s sensitive enough to detect life’s thumb on the chemical scales. On Earth, life makes more methane and less of the gas ethane than non-living reactions do. If researchers saw this signature on Mars, the case for life would get stronger.

Future missions will help. The European Space Agency's ExoMars spacecraft, due to land in 2020, will be able to drill more than six feet down into pristine martian soils and examine samples with its on-board suite of instruments. And NASA’s scheduled Mars 2020 rover is slated to package soil samples for future missions to pick up and return to Earth.

Even now, the ExoMars mission is making strides. The mission's Trace Gas Orbiter arrived at Mars in late 2016, and it’s currently collecting data that will let scientists map Mars’s methane—and maybe even pinpoint its sources.

“We just a few weeks ago started our measurements in the most sensitive mode, and the teams are working hard on extracting the data on methane,” Håkan Svedhem, the project scientist for the Trace Gas Orbiter, says in an email. “We believe we will be able to present results on this in a few weeks’ time.”

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