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Life On Mars? Curiosity Finds Organics On The Red Planet

NASA’s Curiosity rover has made a significant discovery that may help scientists determine if there is, or ever was, life on the Red Planet.

Curiosity has detected temporary spikes in methane in the atmosphere of Mars, as well as other organics in rock samples collected by the rover, which has excited scientists about the prospects of finding evidence of life on Mars.

Researchers using the rover’s Sample Analysis at Mars suite of instruments detected fluctuations in the concentration of methane in the atmosphere of Mars over a 20-month period. They saw a tenfold increase in the concentrations of methane in the atmosphere on two separate occasions, with four measurements averaging seven parts per billion.

“This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” said Sushil Atreya of the Curiosity rover science team. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”

Methane is of particular interest to scientists looking for evidence of past or present life on Mars, as it is a common waste product of living organisms with most of the methane on Earth coming from biological sources. However, methane can also be produced from abiotic sources, such as geologic activity.

“We can’t rule out the possibility of life on Mars now,” according to Curiosity participating scientist Danny Glavin. “It’s really exciting. There are other explanations, of course — they could come from asteroids or comets, or non-biological reactions.”

“The other possibility is that we’re looking at the chemical fingerprint of a Martian Biotia that died out,” Glavin added.

Read more: http://www.penny4nasa.org/2014/12/16/curiosity-discovers-methane-organics-on-mars/