Curiosity rover discovers 'puzzling' signs of possible past life on Mars |  Science

Curiosity rover discovers ‘puzzling’ signs of possible past life on Mars | Science

The Mars rover Curiosity has discovered interesting organic compounds in the rocks of the Red Planet. Scientists have three explanations for this. One of these is the most creative and leads to the hypothesis that they are signs of past life on Mars. But this is still premature.

Yuri Flemings

Last updated:
20-01-22, 14:23

Live Science, NASA

The rock samples that Curiosity has collected over the years — the rover landed in Gale crater on Mars in August 2012 — with impact drills at five different crater locations appear to contain organic material rich in a type of carbon (carbon-12) associated with life here on Earth. the earth. The research team notes that it’s too early to say why these intriguing chemicals are produced on Mars. The Red Planet is very different from Earth and many processes on Mars remain a mystery.

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“We’re finding interesting things on Mars, but we really need more evidence to say we’ve identified life,” said Paul Mahaffey, who retired in December as principal investigator at NASA. “So we’re looking at what would cause that carbon, if it weren’t for life.”

Scientists previously determined that the bottom of Gale Crater, where Curiosity landed in 2012, was a habitable environment billions of years ago, home to a lake and stream system that likely survived for millions of years.

In their paper published in PNAS, the researchers see three possible explanations for the intriguing carbon-12. The first is that microbes on Mars produced methane, which was then converted into more complex organic molecules after interacting with ultraviolet radiation in the Red Planet’s sky. These large organic particles then fell back to the ground and were incorporated into the rock that Curiosity was drilling into.

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The second statement does not refer to past life on Mars, but proves that similar interactions with ultraviolet light and non-biological carbon dioxide, the most abundant gas in the Martian atmosphere, can also lead to this result. Finally, the researchers say, it’s also possible that the Solar System long ago was driven by a giant carbon-12-rich molecular cloud.

“All three explanations fit the data,” said study leader Christopher House, a Curiosity scientist at Penn State University. “We just need more data to include or exclude.”

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