NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity detected both carbon-containing compounds in old sediments on the land and shifting levels of methane in the atmosphere of the planet, and NASA is hosting a live discussion to review and analyze it. The event, hosted by Michelle Thaller, who is the current assistant direction of science for communications in NASA’s Planetary Science Division will focus on the two studies that were published earlier this week. Paul Mahaffy, the directions of the Solar system Exploration Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; Jen Eigenbrode, a research scientist at Goddard; Chris Webster, a senior research fellow in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and Ashwin Vasavada, a Mars Science Laboratory project scientist will all participate in the discussion. These two breakthrough discoveries, or discovery in a general sense, which will be the focus of the live discussion, were written and published as scientific papers in the journal “Science”. The rover Curiosity was launched on November 6, 2011 and landed nine months later on Mars.
This news comes a few years after the Curiosity found evidence that water and chemical ingredients necessary for microbial life on Mars did once exist. The new findings, gathered over a period of time for comparison purposes, show different levels of Methane in the atmosphere of Mars each season, with summer showing peak levels in the northern hemisphere of Mars. Researchers wrote that while Methane is produced through basic nonbiological processes, as well, on Earth, it is normally created by microorganisms, leading them to speculate about where- or, which life forms, rather, that it could’ve come from. The molecules in the ancient sediments contained a variety of molecules, as well, providing strong evidence that life did, or currently does, exist on Mars.
These findings, which are being hailed as a “breakthrough in astrobiology”, were years in the making, with science and technology coming together to make it possible. Since Curiosity landed over five years ago, it has used its Tunable Laser Spectrometer to measure the levels of methanethat are in the atmosphere at the Gale crater on the surface of Mars. The Curiosity rover dug 2 inches into the 3.5 billion-year-old mudstone at the Gale crater to discover the organic molecules, which contained methane, as well. The findings show that Mars could have once had a climate that allowed for sustainable water sources, such as lakes or rivers. Another theory behind the data is that these lakes or rivers could be beneath the surface of Mars right now. Based on these findings, the Gale Crater was possibly occupied 3.5 billion years ago. The atmosphere and conditions of the planet back then, when Earth was just beginning to create sustainable life forms, would have matched what Earth is now, with a sustained life form of some sort.
NASA’s InSight Lander will land on Mars on November 26 after being launched on May 5, complete with an “autonomous rotorcraft”. This helicopter, nicknamed the “marscopter” has been in development since 2013 and was first revealed as a mission add-on in 2015. This marscopter would be small enough to fit inside The 2020 Mars Rover, where solar cells will charge its batteries and even operate a built-in heater to fight the cold nighttime temperatures on Mars. Built to be both lightweight and powerful, the marscopter has a fuselage the size of a softball and counter-rotating blades that are able to push through Martian air at a rate 10 times or more faster than an Earth helicopter would, NASA said. After a 30-day test mission with five long-range trips, the marscopter will give NASA scientists a new way of seeing the planet, if it passes those test missions. This mission in 2020 will be to explore Mars to see if it is currently “geologically alive” or active. Scientists want to know if Earthquakes- or rather, “Mars quakes”, happen. The 2020 Mars rover, expected to launch in July of 2020, may be able to help bring samples of Mars soil to Earth to be studied further to determine that information.