Is there life on Mars. Four decades of searching and science may finally have the answer. Scientists have organic molecules on the slopes of Mount Sharp. These were discovered by NASA’s Curiosity rover.

This is significant news for many reasons. For any life to have existed on Mars, presence of organic molecules might give us the insight we need. Either these molecules are by products of organisms currently living there or they are remnants of life that existed on the surface of Mars billions of years ago.

Based upon the information scientists have gleaned so far, they cannot determine whether these organics were produced by life, delivered to the surface of Mars by meteorites, or are the byproduct of geological processes on Mars.

Hello Martians ­čÖé

After landing, the Rover surveyed the lowest depressions of the Gale crater and analysed samples. Chlorinated hydrocarbons were first observed in 2014.

Curiosity drove on to the base of Mount Sharp and sampled some of the mud stones (a rock that formed from muds and clays) found there. If organic molecules existed on Mars, the scientists thought, they would be here.

Curiosity’s mudplay

For performing any sort of analysis Curiosity has to first extract a rock. To do this it drills a rock to obtain powdered samples which are then sent to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of instruments. Then the sample is heated up to 500ºC so as to release the gases within it. These gases are then analysed by a mass spectrometer.

After careful analysis scientists have conclusively found aromatic, thiophenic and aliphatic organic compounds on Mars. These results were reported on Thursday in Science Magazine. Scientists are particularly interested in the discovery of sulfur present within the molecules.

In July 2020, NASA also plans to launch the Mars 2020 rover, which will sophisticated instruments which will be able to perform a even more detailed analysis of the Martian surface.

Scientists suspect if organic molecules are found at this depth and if they were being produced by organic life, the organisms doing this might be well protected from radiation present on the surface of Mars.

Either way this announcement gives us tantalizing view in history of the red planet

Science, 2018. DOI: 10.1126/science.aas9185

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