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Did NASA Just Find Evidence of Life on Mars?

by Victoria Santiago
(Photo by ESA via Getty Images)

The Curiosity rover brought back some compelling evidence that suggests there was life on Mars. This is what NASA has been waiting for.

NASA scientists have been reviewing rocks that the Curiosity rover collected on Mars. The rocks show signs of organic carbon. They believe that this carbon might’ve come from bugs that lived on Mars. They analyzed rocks from six different locations that the rover had traveled to. Rocks from each of the locations had a carbon cycle. NASA says that these rock samples could have a “biological basis.” They are reportedly similar to fossil samples of microbial life found in Australia.

“The samples extremely depleted in carbon 13 are a little like samples from Australia taken from sediment that was 2.7 billion years old,” said Professor Christopher House, the lead author of the study from Penn State University. “Those samples were caused by biological activity when methane was consumed by ancient microbial mats. But we can’t necessarily say that on Mars because it’s a planet that may have formed out of different materials and processes than Earth.”

To test the samples, the Curiosity rover heated them up to separate all of the chemicals inside. The rover was specifically testing levels of Carbon 12 and Carbon 13, which are essential to understanding where the samples came from. “The amounts of carbon 12 and carbon 13 in our solar system are the amounts that existed at the formation of the solar system,” House said. “Both exist in everything, but because carbon 12 reacts more quickly than carbon 13, looking at the relative amounts of each in samples can reveal the carbon cycle.”

The rover’s results showed that some samples had lots of Carbon 13 while other samples did not, according to LadBible.

Life on Mars, or Just Methane?

Essentially, it boils down to this: we know that the samples show similar carbon cycles to how life is formed on Earth. However, that doesn’t mean that it directly points to life on Mars.

On Earth, carbon in rocks would indicate that methane was consumed by microbes. Methane is found in Mars’ atmosphere, just like Earth. On Mars, it could just mean that large amounts of methane were released from the subsurface of the planet. After the methane was released, it could’ve been consumed in the same way that methane is consumed on Earth. Alternatively, it could’ve reacted to UV rays. Either way, it would’ve ended up as a deposit on the surface of Mars.

So Far, We’ve Been Looking for Answers in the Gale Crater

Most of the studying done on Mars is based on the Gale Crater. Scientists believe that the Gale Crater used to be a deep lake. They also think that it could be key in understanding life on Mars. If it was a lake, it could have organic samples somewhere inside. Of course, if that’s true, these samples could teach us what we need to know about the Red Planet.