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 perchlorate—identified previously in polar Mars—appeared to also be present in Gale Crater, the site of Curiosity’s exploration.
The possible discovery of organics—or carbon-based compounds bonded to hydrogen, also called hydrocarbons—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 life—especially long ago when the planet was wetter and warmer—somewhat greater, since available carbon is considered to be so important to all known biology.