The “building blocks” for life have been discovered in 3-billion-year-old organic matter on Mars, NASA scientists announced Thursday.
Researchers cannot yet say whether their discovery stems from life or a more mundane geological process. However, “we’re in a really good position to move forward looking for signs of life,” said Jennifer Eigenbrode, a NASA biogeochemist and lead author of a study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Science.
The findings were also remarkable in that they showed that organic material can be preserved for billions of years on the harsh Martian surface.
The material was discovered by the Mars Curiosity rover, which has been collecting data on the Red Planet since August 2012. The organic molecules were found in Gale Crater — believed to once contain a shallow lake the size of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee.
For the past six years, “the Curiosity has sifted samples of soil and ground-up rock for signs of organic molecules — the complex carbon chains that on Earth form the building blocks of life, according to Science. “Past detections have been so faint that they could be just contamination,” the journal said.
Now, samples taken from two different drill sites on an ancient lake bed have yielded complex organic molecules that look strikingly similar to the goopy fossilized building blocks of oil and gas on Earth.
The rover also discovered traces of methane in the Martian atmosphere, which was reported in a…