Curiosity Finds Organic Compounds on Mars

Curiosity Finds Organic Compounds on Mars

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NASA's not saying there's life on Mars just yet, though.

Last week there was a bit of a hullabaloo about some comments NASA's John Grotzninger - the lead researcher on the Curiosity rover mission to Mars - about some discovery that was "for the history books." NASA issued a statement making sure we knew it wasn't that big of a deal. Today, at the American Geophysical Union's meeting in San Francisco, NASA scientists did reveal some promising results from Curiosity's on board instruments, including the presence of some compounds that contain the element carbon. NASA has more testing to do to make sure the carbon did not make the trip on the rover from Earth, but it looks like conditions for microbial life might have been possible on Mars.

"We really consider this a terrific milestone," said Paul Mahaffy, NASA's lead scientist on data gathered by the Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM unit, on Curiosity. "We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point, but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater."

What Curiosity found on Mars was a surprising amount of water locked into the grains of sand and dust found in the soil. There aren't lakes or anything, but scientists were surprised to find this much moisture. On top of that, the Curiosity rover discovered a compound called perchlorate - a toxic substance that includes oxygen and chlorine. When analyzed by the SAM instrument and heated, the perchlorate excreted a chlorinated methane gas containing traces of carbon. NASA scientists consider methane an organic substance, but they want to be very sure the sample wasn't contaminated somehow.

"We have to be very careful to make sure both the carbon and the chlorine are coming from Mars," Mahaffy said.

Still, the theories have started flying. Perchlorates are used as a rocket fuel here on Earth, and it's possible Martian microbes evolved a way to use the compound as a source of energy. Of course, after NASA confirms these compounds came from Mars, they then have to rule out it was created on Mars and didn't crash land on the red planet from some other cosmic body.

"We just simply don't know if they're indigenous to Mars or not," Grotzninger said. "You have ... to decide whether or not those formation pathways are abiotic, or maybe in the end biologic. There's a complicated decision pathway there, and we have to explore each one systematically."

Like the Curiosity's namesake, the rover's groundbreaking discoveries just lead to the desire to ask more questions. One day, we'll find the little green men on Mars, but sadly today is not that day.

Source: NBC News

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This is it people, here's hoping it wasn't just some error on the rover's part.

The chances of anything coming from Mars.... are slightly higher?

I'll be interested to see what they find but I'm not going to hold my breath.

Dirt farts never smelled so good!

So Mars has carbon now. Whoo. Maybe in a few hundred million years, it'll do something about it. Until that time, I remain unimpressed.

Note that "organic" is a loosely defined term in chemistry that now roughly means "compound containing carbon". It doesn't mean (any more) that it's a compound related to or originating in living things.

That is definitely not what I was expecting from a "history book" discovery. I would have at least thought they had some kind of amino acids if not better. You disappoint me, NASA.

The headline is wrong, they didn't find organic compounds they found complex molecules that are indicative of there once possibly having been life on mars. That how ever isn't the only way these compounds could get there and as far as evidence for there having been life on mars it isn't so strong that any scientist would be willing to use it as proof.

Less over the top headlines please.

synobal:
The headline is wrong, they didn't find organic compounds they found complex molecules that are indicative of there once possibly having been life on mars. That how ever isn't the only way these compounds could get there and as far as evidence for there having been life on mars it isn't so strong that any scientist would be willing to use it as proof.

Less over the top headlines please.

Er, methane is an organic compound. "Organic compound" more or less just means that it has carbon in it. The title is fine.

It was the Protheans. They left it there when they visited Mars.

Nimzar:
It was the Protheans. They left it there when they visited Mars.

So Curiosity found a Prothean Dirt Fart?

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Earthshaking!

This is awesome but it will take a long time until they can say for sure whether it comes from Mars and not from earth or some meteorite.

On another note, I'd like to put forward that 'Grotzninger' is probably the most carefully pronounced name in history.

Call me crazy, but isn't a meteorite crater the last place you want to be looking for compounds native to the planet you're on?

Just as long as they're not Blisk spores, we'll be FINE.

Interestingly enough, in the same week a probe detected water ice and possible organic compounds in Mercury's craters.

FalloutJack:
Just as long as they're not Blisk spores, we'll be FINE.

THEY'RE TAKING ALL OUR VODKA!!!!!

I was hoping for more but beggars can't be choosers.

FalloutJack:
Just as long as they're not Blisk spores, we'll be FINE.

Screw the little green/grey men, and screw the blisk, I WANT THIS TO BE PROTHEAN RUINS!

now THAT would be one for the history books... history books already written by some authors at bioware, though ideally the dates are pushed ahead to coincide with the first half of my lifetime (no hurry, thats a good 30 years still)

Quazimofo:

FalloutJack:
Just as long as they're not Blisk spores, we'll be FINE.

Screw the little green/grey men, and screw the blisk, I WANT THIS TO BE PROTHEAN RUINS!

now THAT would be one for the history books... history books already written by some authors at bioware, though ideally the dates are pushed ahead to coincide with the first half of my lifetime (no hurry, thats a good 30 years still)

It could be worse. We could find an ancient alien artifact that looks like it generates a portal to somewhere FAR...

My first thought: "So THAT'S what was in the cube! Well played, Molyneux."

Oh well.

Then they uncover... a Stargate.

Not a huge breakthrough, granted, but I enjoy reading anything about stuff happening in space, or on other planets. The more we learn, the closer we get to figuring out exactly what the heck is going on out there!

SO i guess the rover was named correctly after all. now i am curious. At best, we will prove aliens, at worst - its a milestone discovery that our microbes can adapt to live on mars (meaning its possible to colonize mars).

The way I look at this, finding that amount of water significantly increases the chances of us one day being able to establish a colony on mars.

I dunno, this kinda excites me, maybe cos I'm really into science and quite the anti-theist.
It's nice, I just wish we could discover it all before I die.

Methane and water is pretty much what you need for amino acids--let's see if they find something more common.

But, honestly? Mars has a CO2 rich atmosphere. Finding methane on mars is like finding hydrogen in the sun. It's one of the most common compounds in the universe. (Water is the most.)

Enough exploration of the surface, I say start digging! I want to see some alien fossils!

Dirt farts mean dirt fuel..saddle up boys and girl were goin' to Mars in our lifetime!!!

I think this deserves a song!

concidering nasa allready found bacteria on meteorites on earth that came from mars and were definatley from mars... this is stupid

Aww, and hear I was hoping that curiosity had found prothean ruins on mars.

 

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