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A NASA robot has found more building blocks for life on Mars, the most complex organic matter yet from 3.5 billion-year-old rocks on the surface of the red planet, the United States space agency said on Thursday.

"With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life", NASA science mission chief Thomas Zurbuchen told USA Today. The rover has returned a lot of fascinating science, but its latest discovery offers the best evidence yet for life on Mars.

NASA's Jennifer Eigenbrode said in an interview this year, 'I look at organic molecules in rocks, ice and sediments and try to figure out where they came from and what happened to them over time. NASA also announced it had found signs of "seasonal methane" in the Mars atmosphere. So like the organic molecules, it's not an unambiguous biosignature. The compounds discovered on Mars could have been produced by living things, or they could have been food for those living things. On Earth, such carbon-rich compounds are one of life's cornerstones.

"If there are no organics, we can pretty much forget about there being life or ever having been life on Mars", says Dr. Weintraub. Using SAM, Webster and his colleagues have found a persistent background level of methane in the atmosphere above Gale Crater over the last five years of about 0.4 part per billion-a scarcely detectable trace, to be sure, but enough to pique astrobiologists' interest.

"Today, we're announcing the discovery of a repeatable, identifiable, seasonal pattern in the methane measurements", said Chris Webster, a senior research fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. All we can say from the data is that there is complex organic matter similar to what is found in many equivalent aged rocks on the Earth.

The Curiosity rover, launched in 2011 with about $2.5 billion worth of scientific equipment with the intent of exploring and analyzing Mars' Gale Crater.

"The results convincingly show the long-awaited detection of organic compounds on Mars".

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And the seasonal methane pulse is perhaps, maybe, possibly - but far, far from certainly - the sort of signal Curiosity might detect if life did form back then and was still around somewhere, ten Kate said.

They don't exactly roll off the tongue, but researchers believe that these are fragments of larger molecules that were present on Mars billions of years ago. This is close to the amount observed in Martian meteorites and about 100 times greater than prior detections of organic carbon on Mars' surface.

He and his colleagues think the methane is coming from underground.

"That would be exciting because if that is done within two years, NASA can send a mission specifically to that place", he said.

"We don't know, but these results tell us we are on the right track"'. Curiosity can only drill a few centimeters into Martian rocks, and it lacks the advanced tools necessary to search for more complex markers of life.

Both discoveries emerged from Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, a miniaturized chemistry lab and oven that roasts dollops of air, rock and soil to sniff out each sample's constituent molecules.

"Once it's on the surface, the temperature on the surface regulates the way in which it holds on to the methane through 'stickiness, ' or surface adsorption as we call it", he says.


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