Curiosity finds organic materials on Mars, including fluctuating levels of methane


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Data from Curiosity has found both organic chemicals in the surface of Mars as well as quickly changing levels of methane in the nearby atmosphere.

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill. “This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Curiosity rover science team. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”

The organic material does not prove there is or was ever life on Mars. What it shows is that conditions on Mars could have once supported life. The methane detection, however, is a more significant finding, as it suggests that something very nearby to Curiosity is causing the spike. It could be life, or it could be chemical activity, but in either case, it means there is activity.

The one caveat is that the spike still did not amount to much, 7 parts per billion. Whatever is causing it is not really doing very much.

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6 comments

  • Cotour

    Mr. Zimmerman, related to my abduction comments earlier, my computer was apparently stuck at that Ave Maria video for the past week or so for some reason and it lead me assume that something was amiss.
    Right now my computer has decided to reorient my monitor view 90 degrees and that is how I am writing this message and I am unable to turn it back. So it was not you, it was me. Just to clarify.

    I will either figure it out or have to buy a new computer.

    Have a good holiday.

  • Some people have reported problems to me in viewing the website, only to discover that they needed to clear the cache in their browser. BtB was running fine.

    FYI, a sideways view of life is often the best way to view it.

  • Cotour

    Just for general information:

    I solved the 90 degree from normal orientation on my screen by unplugging the HDMI cable that I feed my flat screen with. Un plug it and the screen is in the normal position, plug the HDMI cable back in and it goes to 90 degrees. I have no idea why, it just decided to be that way. I have cleared the cache and everything other than the screen situation seems fine, thanks for the suggestion.

    As for your suggestion about viewing life in the 90 degree orientation, I agree, most times its best to be able to change ones point of view in order to “properly” interpret existence.

    JEB BUSH- 2016! (sarcasm for Edward)

  • Edward

    Thanks for the sarcasm alert.

    A couple of years ago, I also had a hiccough with BtB, but maybe I had restarted my browser, because it magically became up to date, and I had a couple of days worth of catching up to do. :-(

    Sorry about the sideways view of life. I really only do that when I am sick in bed, so this view of life has never seemed so rosy. Maybe I should try it while I am up and about — and healthy. Physically, I mean; it is far too late for mental health. ;-)

  • If Curiosity is kicking up small amounts of liquid or solid (frozen) methane from below the surface and exposing them to sunlight, might they boil or sublimate and be picked up by the robot’s sensors? Just sayin’…

  • Ah, interesting. It is very possible that during Curiosity’s travels it passed over concentrations of frozen methane and kicked them up. Then again, I don’t know the properties of methane that well. Can it be frozen on or close to the surface of Mars. I suspect not but would love to hear an educated opinion.

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