Clues to life on Mars? Nasa's Curiosity rover finds complex organic material on the Red Planet
The space agency had announced in 2012 that the rover had made a smaller discovery of organic material on the surface
A rover that was sent to the surface of Mars by Nasa has finally confirmed the long-held theory that the red planet once had life thriving on its surface. The space agency has called it a "significant breakthrough" in the search for life outside our planet after the rover detected complex organic matter on the surface.
Scientists have revealed that the unmanned Curiosity rover was able to discover the organic matter from rocks on the surface of the planet that date back to 3.5 billion years ago.
The rover was inside a basin called Gale Crater at the base of Mount Sharp on Mars from where samples were drilled. Scientists have made it clear that this discovery, though significant, does not mean that it is direct evidence there was life on the planet at one point.
However, experts claim that the compounds that were discovered in the samples are the most diverse that have ever been found on the surface of the planet since the rover made its landing there six years ago.
The rover has collected substantial evidence so far for the seasonal variation of the methane in the almost non-existant atmosphere of Mars. This has indicated to the scientists that the gaseous material is coming from the surface of the planet itself or maybe from the water that is there underneath the surface.
Jennifer Eigenbrode, the lead author of two studies published in Science, has said: "This is a significant breakthrough because it means there are organic materials preserved in some of the harshest environments on Mars. And maybe we can find something better preserved than that, that has signatures of life in it."
Nasa had announced in 2012 that the Curiosity rover had made a smaller discovery of organic material on the surface. The study done this year has revealed that the planet's surface actually contains complex and diverse organic compounds. They have been able to study these compunds in detail this time.
Sanjeev Gupta, co-author of one of the studies and a professor of earth science at the Imperial College London, said: "This is the first really trusted detection."
"What this new study is showing in some detail is the discovery of complex and diverse organic compounds in the sediments. That doesn't mean life, but organic compounds are the building blocks of life. This is the first time we have detected such a diverse array of these sorts of things."
Eigenbrode said that the compounds that were just discovered could have also come from a meteroite or geological formations that are similar to that of coal and black shale that is found here on Earth.