Since arriving at Mars in 2012, NASA's Curiosity rover has drilled into rocks in search of organics - molecules containing carbon. The new organic molecule findings are 100 times greater than those previously found on Mars' surface, according to the agency.
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.
"Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes".
In a second, potentially more significant finding announced Thursday, scientists reported detection of a seasonal variation in methane levels in the martian atmosphere. What the study has done, though, is to propel the search for life on Mars higher up the list of worldwide space exploration priorities - giving space agencies ammunition to argue for a coordinated programme of missions to explore the Red Planet.
"It's not that they haven't found a bit of organic matter before or even the methane in the atmosphere.it's that they've now definitively shown this to be the case".
Scientists have been seeking organic molecules on Mars ever since the 1976 Viking landers.
"What the organic detections in the rock do is to add to the story of habitability".
Scientists say three different types of organic molecules were found by the rover after it dug just two inches (5cm) in the planet's surface. What do we stand to gain from these missions anyway?
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"With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life", Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, said.
We've been exploring the surface of Mars in hopes of understanding the Red Planet since NASA's Viking mission in the 1970s. The 2020 rover will include an advanced spectrometer to scan for organic molecules.
Questions remain, however, as to how the organic material was formed. "While we don't know the source of the material, the awesome consistency of the results makes me think we have a slam-dunk signal for organics on Mars", Eigenbrode said.
The samples were drilled from the base of Mount Sharp, inside a basin called Gale Crater that is believed to have held an ancient Martian lake.
"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. This mudstone gradually formed billions of years ago from silt that accumulated at the bottom of the ancient lake.
NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) spacecraft effectively ruled out cosmic origins following its analysis of the dust left after a close encounter with the comet Siding Spring in 2014.
"Although the surface of Mars is inhospitable today, there is clear evidence that in the distant past, the Martian climate allowed liquid water - an essential ingredient for life as we know it - to pool at the surface", NASA reports.
All of the outside sources I spoke with said it's important to be skeptical about claims of life, extinct or otherwise, on the Red Planet.