The Mars Curiosity rover made an interesting discovery while on our neighboring red planet: organic material and a “mysterious” methane.
The discovery proves that while Mars is inhospitable today, it previously allowed for “liquid water” to pool, meaning a water lake inside Mars’ Gale Crater could have once supported life, NASA said in an announcement on Tuesday. The new organic molecule findings are 100 times greater than those previously found on Mars’ surface, according to the agency.
“Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules,” said Jen Eigenbrode of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes.”
And while methane had previously been found in Mars’ atmosphere in “large, unpredictable plumes,” NASA said it has now found methane levels that follow seasonal trend changes with more methane appearing in warm summer months before dropping in the winter.
“With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, said in the announcement. “I’m confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet.”
The news came during a NASA press conference detailing information found by the Mars Curiosity rover, which was launched back in 2011. The chat between NASA members and three other research scientists took place Thursday at 2 p.m. ET.