"The new findings - "tough" organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface, as well as seasonal variations in the levels of methane in the atmosphere - appear in the June 8 edition of the journal Science", NASA reports in a news release recapping the Thursday, June 7 press conference.
While the new results are far from a confirmation of life on Mars, scientists believe they support earlier hypotheses that the Red Planet was once clement and habitable for microbial life.
Researchers say they can't rule out a biological source.
Nasa has found traces of organic molecules buried in the bed of an ancient lake on Mars.
The surface of Mars may be inhospitable today, but there is strong evidence that the Martian climate once accommodated liquid water - which, as most of you will know, is one of the key components to life - to pool at the surface.
Furthermore, Pontefract says, ExoMars and NASA's Mars 2020 mission will use tools that take a different approach to analyze organics.
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The results revealed a wealth of organics, Eigenbrode said - including some that had carbons linked in ring structures (such as benzenes) and others that include carbon chains (such as propane).
For the previous mud stone samples that had produced the chlorinated molecules, scientists had heated the powdered rock to 200 degrees Celsius. Still, this discovery is very encouraging in the context of what we know about Mars in the distant past. "That doesn't mean life, but organic compounds are the building blocks of life", he added. She pointed out that the surface of Mars is regularly exposed to space radiation, and that radiation and chemicals typically break down organic matter.
The amount of methane peaked at the end of summer in the northern hemisphere at about 2.7 times the level of the lowest seasonal amount. About 95 percent of the methane in Earth's atmosphere is produced from biological activity, though the scientists said it is too soon to know if the Martian methane also is related to life. On Mars, that's been a maddening challenge: While scientists have detected bursts of methane on the planet, they've appeared at random - and thus, it's been hard to figure out what the source is.
On Earth, we have a process by which underwater volcanoes interact with rock, producing methane that feeds bacteria.
This does not mean life was discovered on Mars... yet.
"For the first time we have something that we can get a handle on", said Dr Webster of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
"That would be exciting because if that is done within two years, NASA can send a mission specifically to that place", he said. They therefore suggest that methane could be trapped at depth, gradually seeping to the surface. Despite its aspirations, the Viking program never even found signs life on Mars. And Curiosity dug a little deeper beneath the surface, which is blasted with radiation, to see what stories the soil had to tell.
"People have been wondering about whether there might be life on Mars forever and finally ... they've done all the tests they've modified everything to be able to show that in fact there's organic matter on Mars".