NASA said its Curiosity rover, looking for signs of life in Mars’ Gale Crater, found intriguing carbon signatures. While this is not a definitive suggestion that Curiosity has found evidence of ancient microbial life, it does nevertheless suggest its possibility. The rover is collecting dust rock samples on the surface of the Red Planet. When scientists analyzed them, they found that several of the samples were rich in a type of carbon associated with biological processes on Earth, the space agency said. Carbon is a key element on Earth and may contain vital information about the Martian environment.
Scientists do not want to get ahead of themselves and say they have not yet found conclusive evidence of life – such as sedimentary rock formations produced by ancient bacteria or diversity of complex organic molecules formed by life on Mars. They also caution that the two planets are very different and examples from Earth should not be extrapolated to Mars.
Curiosity scientists published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on January 18. In this paper, the scientists offered several explanations for the “unusual carbon signals” they detected. On a blog publish, NASA said the biological explanation in the paper is inspired by life on Earth. Two other hypotheses offer nonbiological explanations. One says that the carbon signature may have been the result of the interaction between ultraviolet light and carbon dioxide gas. The other suggests that carbon may have been left behind in a rare event hundreds of millions of years ago, when the solar system passed through a giant molecular cloud.
“We’re finding things on Mars that are tantalizingly interesting, but we’d really need more evidence to say we’ve identified life,” said Paul Mahaffy, who served as principal investigator for a chemistry lab aboard Curiosity until his retirement in December. 2021. “So we’re looking at what else could have caused the carbon signature we’re seeing, if not life.”
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