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It's impossible to say whether ancient life explains the Martian organics, however.

Nasa's Curiosity rover has discovered complex organic matter in a dried-up lakebed on Mars.

But that's not the only discovery from Mars.

Curiosity found the organic material in sedimentary rocks - mudstone - after drilling into four areas of the Gale crater, an ancient lake bed in which Curiosity originally landed in 2012. Hints of them are still preserved in sulfur-spiked rocks derived from lake sediments. Schiaparelli ended up crashing into the Martian surface, but TGO arrived safely and recently settled into its final orbit.

But life-hunting Mars missions are coming, and soon. So they looked elsewhere.

NASA's scientists saw "fragments" of organic molecules that were similar to those found in sedimentary rock on Earth.

She said: "Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules".

In addition to ancient carbon, Curiosity has caught whiffs of organics that exist on Mars today.

As with methane, there could well be non-biological explanations for the presence of carbon-containing molecules on Mars, such as geologic processes or impacts by asteroids, comet, meteors and interplanetary dust.

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In addition, methane's observed behavior on Mars is freakish.

The new findings are also detailed in two studies published Thursday in the journal Science. Each martian summer, the atmosphere's methane concentration rises to about 0.6 parts per billion. Previous missions, including Viking in the 1970s, surprised scientists, however, when no trace of these compounds was found. "It's an astounding observation". This vehicle is a life-hunter as well, and it will take the search deep underground, using a drill that can dig about 6.5 feet (2 meters) down.

But what's making the methane? Unfortunately, the new findings do not allow us to say anything about the presence or absence of life on Mars now or in the past. "Or is it something that is stored from an ancient time that's being slowly released?" Together, the researchers believe these findings to be "breakthroughs in astrobiology". Previously, some scientists have said it would be destroyed by the oxidation processes that are active at Mars' surface.

Rocks line an ancient channel where water may have once flowed on Mars.

Since Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012, the rover has been exploring Gale Crater, a massive impact crater roughly the size of CT and Rhode Island, for geological and chemical evidence of the chemical elements and other conditions necessary to sustain life. By exploring Gale Crater it has shown clear evidence that Mars once had liquid water on its surface, and views of the red planet from orbiting spacecraft have charted a desert landscape that appears to have been swept and hewn into shape by powerful flows of water.

In any case, Webster said the methane apparently works its way into the atmosphere from sub-surface reservoirs of some sort, places where non-biological geochemistry is going on or where microbial life might somehow flourish. "Now we can direct future missions in that direction". This variation was detected by Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite.

Curiosity's upgraded replacement, the Mars 2020 rover, is scheduled to land in early 2021 and start gathering more soil samples.

The ExoMars rover mission is the second phase of the two-part ExoMars program, which the European Space Agency (ESA) heads, with Russian Federation as a primary partner.


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