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NASA to reveal new discovery on Mars by Curiosity rover

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NASA conference Mars Curiosity Rover

NASA's Curiosity rover has uncovered organic material in an ancient lakebed and confirmed a seasonal cycle of methane - offering the strongest evidence yet of potential life, past or even present, on the Red Planet.

As seasons come and go on Mars, NASA's Curiosity Rover has been diligently sniffing and digging away, looking for signs the planet could have supported life.

These newly-found ancient organics, ten Kate said, serve to confirm that the basic conditions for life to form really did exist on Mars 3.5 billion years ago, and that there wasn't any outside force (say, ultraviolet light) powerful enough to destroy them entirely. According to the space agency, Curiosity rover discovered organic molecules after drilling mudstone, a type of sedimentary rock, in a handful of places in the Gale Crater.

Naturally, the usual UFO fans have jumped on this and are suggesting it's probably aliens - or at least some sign of life on the Red Planet.

And while methane had previously been found in Mars' atmosphere in "large, unpredictable plumes", NASA said it has now found methane levels that follow seasonal trend changes with more methane appearing in warm summer months before dropping in the winter.

Researchers say they can't rule out a biological source.

Curiosity is the latest rover to trundle across the gritty sands of Mars. More powerful spacecraft are needed to prove whether life ever existed on Mars. This is the most compelling evidence yet that this dry planet once held lakes filled with carbon-based compounds capable of sustaining life.

"This is a significant breakthrough because it means there are organic materials preserved in some of the harshest environments on Mars", said lead author of one of two studies in Science, Jennifer Eigenbrode, an astrobiologist at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center. Curiosity can only drill a few centimeters into Martian rocks, and it lacks the advanced tools necessary to search for more complex markers of life.

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Dr Webster said the difference was much larger than what you would expect if the methane was produced by the breakdown of organic matter from space.

He and his colleagues think the methane is coming from underground.

"We have no proof that the methane is formed biologically, but we can not rule it out, even with this new data set", Webster said.

NASA's InSight Lander, launched on May 5, will land on Mars on November 26.

"We don't know if that methane is ancient or modern", Webster said in a press conference.

In four locations, including the spot nicknamed Mojave, which Curiosity explored in 2015, the rover discovered thiophenes (molecules that include a ring of carbon and sulphur atoms) and other substances that on Earth can be linked to biological activity. The molecules could be the remnants of past organisms, the result of chemical reactions with rocks or simply space debris.

It "defines how questions will be asked and pursued in the next stage of Mars exploration", Anbar, who was not involved in the study, told AFP by email.

One thing is for sure, though - whatever we can figure out about the chemistry of Mars, it's nearly certainly going to add precious details to our understanding of life in the cosmos.

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