NASA’s Curiosity rover has found the first real proof of organic molecules, the building blocks of life, on the surface of Mars.
The little rover drilled the sample from the clay of what scientists think was an ancient Martian lakebed as it trundled about investigating Mars’ Gale Crater, but it took a team of scientists, NASA’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) team to analyze and make a determination of what it found.
These scientists are warning that this doesn’t necessarily mean there once was life on Mars. Although organic molecules, which consist mostly of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms are present in life, they can also be the result of other processes.
Other possible explanations include chemical reactions in ancient Martian hot springs or asteroid impacts. There’s not enough conclusive data to say for sure how the Mars molecules were created.
But the more we learn about Mars through Curiosity, the more we understand that the cold, dry world once had a climate that supported liquid water with rivers and lakes and may have been just right for life.
“We think life began on Earth around 3.8 billion years ago, and our result shows that places on Mars had the same conditions at that time — liquid water, a warm environment, and organic matter,” said Caroline Freissinet of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “So if life emerged on Earth in these conditions, why not on Mars as well?”