Mars rover Curiosity finds the building blocks of life on the red planet

Lulu Chang

It has been six years since the Mars rover Curiosity landed on the red planet, and now, the space vehicle has some news to share. NASA held a press conference to share the latest findings by its rover on June 7, revealing that Curiosity found methane and other organic compounds that serve as the foundations of life.

On Thursday, June 7 scientists from NASA and other research agencies around the world published two stories in the journal Science detailing data collected by the Mars rover. Curiosity has discovered “seasonally fluctuating levels of methane” in the atmosphere on Mars, as well as organic molecules in drilling samples. This is the first time that we’ve gathered concrete evidence of the existence of organic compounds on the red planet.

“Curiosity has shown that Gale crater [on Mars] was habitable around 3.5 billion years ago, with conditions comparable to those on the early Earth, where life evolved around that time,” Inge Loes ten Kate, a professor of Earth sciences at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, wrote in Science.

ancient organic molecules in Gale Crater
nasa mars curioisity news finds organic molecule on 2
Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS)
nasa mars curioisity news rover at buckskin rock on lower mount sharp

But that’s not all — Curiosity’s data suggests that methane is now being released on a seasonal cycle, though we don’t quite understand the timing yet.

“There are active processes happening in the Martian subsurface today, which could include heated reactions between water and rocks, possible biological activity, or some other mechanism,” Siebach noted. “That means Mars today is not a ‘dead planet,’ but somewhere underground there are reactions occurring today that release and absorb an atmospheric gas that is almost always related to warm water or life on Earth.”

It’s been quite some time since we heard from Curiosity, which first landed on Mars in August of 2012.  Its initial mission was to determine whether our closest planetary neighbor had ever supported life, or might be suitable for life in the future. Curiosity made quite a major discovery a year after landing in 2013, when the rover found that liquid water and the chemical components behind life had once existed on Mars. And along the way it’s starred in some great photos of the final frontier.

More recently, at the beginning of 2018, the Curiosity was thought to have found evidence of bioturbation, which is what occurs when organisms living in sediments leave an imprint on their structure.

Updated on June 8 with news that Curiosity found the building blocks of life on Mars.