Mars Rover Detects Simple Organic Compounds
NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has detected several simple carbon-based organic compounds on Mars, but it remains unclear whether they were formed via Earthly contamination or whether they contain only elements indigenous to the planet. Speaking at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting in San Francisco, Curiosity mission leaders also said that the compound perchlorateâ€”identified previously in polar Marsâ€”appeared to also be present in Gale Crater, the site of Curiosity’s exploration.
The possible discovery of organicsâ€”or carbon-based compounds bonded to hydrogen, also called hydrocarbonsâ€”could have major implications for the mission’s search for more complex organic material. It would not necessarily mean that life exists now or ever existed on Mars, but it makes the possibility of Martian lifeâ€”especially long ago when the planet was wetter and warmerâ€”somewhat greater, since available carbon is considered to be so important to all known biology.