LIFE on Mars? NASA Mars Rover Curiosity detects DRAMATIC signs of life on Red Planet

NASA Mars Rover Curiosity has detected carbon trapped in rocks that may hint at evidence of past life on the Red Planet.

| Updated on: Aug 21 2022, 23:33 IST

NASA Mars Rover Curiosity has been exploring the surface of the Red Planet since 2012 to find out about its composition, surface, atmosphere and possible signs of life. The long drawn research on Mars has been quite extensive and scientists are quite literally leaving no stones unturned in order to uncover the truth. Yesterday, on January 17, Mars Rover Curiosity's team announced something unusual that may hint at the evidence of past life on Mars. The NASA Mars team has discovered carbon trapped in multiple rocks examined by the rover.

Now, finding carbon by itself is not that exciting. However, the carbon Curiosity has discovered is surprisingly enriched in light isotopes of carbon which would have been a strong indicator of life. Let's understand what this finding means and what could be the possible implications of it.

NASA Mars Rover Curiosity discovers carbon signatures

Before getting into the findings of NASA Mars Rover Curiosity itself, it is important to note that carbon exists in two stable forms of isotope, namely carbon-12, a ‘light' variation that makes up most of the carbon found in the world. And the other one is carbon-13, where the element is weighed down due to an extra neutron. Now, due to an extra neutron in its structure, carbon-13 makes stronger bonds with other elements and does not easily participate in chemical reaction. On the other hand, carbon-12 easily splits and forms complex structures that give results, for example, life on Earth.

NASA Mars Rover Curiosity team examined 24 rocks across Gale Crater, which is a remnant of an ancient lake. Curiosity baked these rocks in an oven inside the rover and found the existence of methane. At at least six sites, the concentration of carbon-12 in methane was more than 70 parts per thousand. Shockingly, that is higher than what is found even on Earth.

Christopher House, a biochemist at Pennsylvania State University and lead author of the study said that “It was a dramatic signal” and that “it inches up the plausibility” that microorganisms could have existed on Mars in the past.

While this finding is not conclusive by any means, it raises the hopes of the entire scientific community to better understand the planet and the possible existence of life on Mars.

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First Published Date: 18 Jan, 17:40 IST