The New York Post: Life on Mars? NASA rover finds building blocks for life on planet’s surface

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The “ingredients necessary for life” have been found on Mars, according to NASA scientists.

Data compiled by the Curiosity rover shows that a water lake inside the planet’s Gale Crater once contained “tough” organic molecules made up of carbon and hydrogen — and possibly many other elements, such as oxygen and nitrogen.

These ancient compounds were apparently lying dormant in 3-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks, which were discovered near Mars’ surface by NASA’s Curiosity.

The SUV-sized rover drilled a hole into the rocks, scooped up some samples, and then ran them through its SAM system. This specialized “suite of instruments” heated up the Martian soil using a nuclear-powered oven “to release organic molecules from the powdered rock,” NASA said.

It also helped find another building block of life — methane.

During the Curiosity mission, SAM discovered seasonal variations in the levels of methane in Mars’ atmosphere. The organic molecule is still present today, but scientists stress that it could have been generated by water-rock chemistry, rather than biologically.

“We really can’t tell if this methane we see today is a current product of serpentinization [a chemical reaction between iron-bearing rocks and liquid water] or microbial activity at some depth,” explained NASA Goddard scientist Michael Mumma, one of the leading researchers who helped discover Mars’ methane plumes and spoke to National Geographic about the findings.

“Or is it something that is stored from an ancient time that’s being slowly released?”

Results from the mudstone rock and methane study were first published in Science on Thursday. While the discoveries are just one small step in man’s quest for life on Mars, they’re one giant leap for NASA’s Curiosity mission.

“When you work with something as crazy as a rover on Mars, with the most complex instrument ever sent to space, it seems like we’re doing what may have been perceived earlier as impossible,” said Jennifer Eigenbrode, a biogeochemist at NASA Goddard and lead author of the study.

“I work with an amazing group of people on Mars, and we have discovered so much.”

Eigenbrode and other Curiosity researchers told Nat Geo that the findings shouldn’t be perceived as new evidence for life on Mars, but rather proof of the Red Planet’s potential to host life.

“We cannot rule out the possibility that it was created biologically,” study lead author and senior NASA research fellow Chris Webster told Space.com. “We can’t say that it was, but we’re certainly not dropping that idea. So, in a sense, that’s positive for the astrobiologists in the world.”

Eigenbrode added, “There is a possibility that [the organics] are from an ancient life source; we just don’t know. And even if life was never around, [the molecules] tell us there was at least something around for organisms to eat.”

This report originally appeared on NYPost.com.