Three-and-a-half billion years ago, the floor of Gale Crater on Mars was the muddy bottom of a large lake where sediment was deposited and, over time, turned into a fine-grained layered rock.
Paul Mahaffy, director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, explained that the objective of the mission was to explore the possibility of sustaining life on Mars. Methane, found on Mars before in plumes or patches, has never been detected in instances that scientists had been able to see repeatedly. The 2020 rover will include an advanced spectrometer to scan for organic molecules. The space agency already has its eyes on the future as the Mars 2020 Rover has been called a "souped-up science machine" that will expand upon Curiosity's findings.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, said that these discoveries should be viewed as Mars "telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life".
"What the organic detections in the rock do is to add to the story of habitability". Most of Earth's atmospheric methane comes from animal and plant life, and the environment itself. This latest evidence, however, is far more compelling.
"[Curiosity's] molecular observations do not clearly reveal the source of the organic matter in [Gale Crater]".
"We don't know", Eigenbrode says.
Scientists agree more powerful spacecraft - and, ideally, rocks returned to Earth from Mars - are needed to prove whether tiny organisms like bacteria ever existed on the red planet.
As for the methane, Curiosity's Tunable Laser Spectrometer measured the methane levels in its surrounding atmosphere over five years.
Since Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012, the rover has been exploring Gale Crater, a massive impact crater roughly the size of CT and Rhode Island, for geological and chemical evidence of the chemical elements and other conditions necessary to sustain life. This is all written down: the Union Aerospace Corporation went digging around Mars-quite possibly lured in by the discovery of ancient organic material-one thing led to another, and they opened a portal to Hell.
"Are there signs of life on Mars?" "We can find organic matter preserved in mudstones that are more than three billion years old", Siebach said. Nearly exactly a year ago, NASA reported the discovery of such evidence in the form of an ancient lake that would have been suitable for microbial life to not only survive but flourish. Understandably, the authors of the two papers, published in the journal Science, are very careful not to make the claim that they have discovered life on Mars.
Leading contenders have included some sort of chemical reaction based on a rock called olivine, meteorites dropping organic materials into the atmosphere, or a release from a sub-surface reservoir close to the surface. But methane can also be produced by normal geologic processes. Now with these new results, what does this all say about the possibility that there is, or was life on Mars?
For his part Webster says he has no preference among the different explanations, and believes it will take a long time before any final conclusions can be drawn.
The other set of results announced today deals with the mysterious case of Mars's methane. Eigenbrode clarified, however, that the matter was not evidence of life as non-biological entities can create organic molecules.