In exciting news, NASA’s Curiosity rover has detected the presence of organic matter on Mars. In our quest to find life on other planets, some of the key indicators we search for are water and organic compounds – two things we know were instrumental to the emergence of life on the only planet known to harbour it – Earth.
While the discovery is not evidence of life in and of itself, it does indicate that this region of Mars once had both water and organic compounds, and this is worthy of our attention as Dr Niall Smith, Head of Research at CIT, explains: “What Curiosity has discovered is, by far, the most complex organic molecules found beyond Earth to date. But what makes this really exciting is that they would likely have been made when the location we find them in today was a lake with liquid water. While the discovery is NOT indicative of life, it IS indicative of the building blocks and environmental conditions that are conducive to life. The fact that both may have existed at the same time is very exciting! We now have a new rationale for building new missions which take a closer look at those early Martian conditions, before it lost its atmosphere and became a largely frozen wasteland that we see today.”
While the discovery is hugely exciting news, it is important to restate that this does not mean life has been found on Mars, or even that life may have been present in the past. But the idea that the conditions that kick-started life here on Earth may have been present elsewhere in our solar system is still a humbling and exciting idea. The question of how our planet came to teem with life, and whether that process has replicated elsewhere, is perhaps the greatest question our species has ever asked, but any answer we can find will be profound. Either we are alone in the vastness of the Universe, or life is a phenomenon that exists beyond the reaches of our own beautiful, blue, planet.
Link to image source: ESA
Link to license: CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO