2018-06-07. NASA rover hits organic pay dirt on Mars.

posted Jun 10, 2018, 3:25 AM by Alan Gould
By Paul Voosen, Science Magazine. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: In its quest to find molecules that could point to life on Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover has struck a gusher. Since Curiosity landed in 2012, it has sifted samples of soil and ground-up rock for signs of organic molecules—the complex carbon chains that on Earth form the building blocks of life. Past detections have been so faint that they could be just contamination. Now, samples taken from two different drill sites on an ancient lakebed have yielded complex organic macromolecules that look strikingly similar to the goopy fossilized building blocks of oil and gas on Earth. At a few dozen parts per million, the detected levels are 100 times higher than previous finds. Although the team cannot yet say whether these molecules stem from life or a more mundane geological process, they demonstrate that organics can be preserved for billions of years in the harsh martian surface environment, says Jennifer Eigenbrode, a biogeochemist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who led a study in this week’s Science. "We're in a really good position to move forward looking for signs of life." ...Because ultraviolet radiation and oxidizing compounds in the martian soil would destroy any compounds exposed at the surface, Curiosity's scientists used a robotic drill to penetrate several centimeters into the mudstone. They delivered the fresh grit to an oven inside the rover's belly.... http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/06/nasa-rover-hits-organic-pay-dirt-mars