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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.