NASA’s Curiosity rover has discovered organic molecules like ammonia on Mars

NASA’s Curiosity rover has discovered unprecedented organic molecules, ammonia and benzoic acid, on Mars, which could be possible indicators of ancient life.

The results come from a new technique used by the US space agency in 2017, when the rover’s exercise stopped working, but the team redirected Curiosity to place dirt samples in cups filled with a chemical mixture instead of the typical empty containers.

The dirt showed traces of benzoic acid and ammonia, both of which occur naturally in plants and animals, including humans.

The molecules are not biosignatures, evidence of past or present life, but according to Maëva Millan, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, they are good indicators of the presence of biosignatures.

‘One of the things we tried to look for [when searching for] organic molecule on Mars is to understand Mars ‘past habitability and to look for bioindicators,’ Millan told Inverse.

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NASA's Curiosity has discovered unprecedented organic molecules on Mars that could be possible indicators of ancient life (stock).  Sample dirt collected by the rover showed traces of benzoic acid and ammonia

NASA’s Curiosity has discovered unprecedented organic molecules on Mars that could be possible indicators of ancient life (stock). Sample dirt collected by the rover showed traces of benzoic acid and ammonia

Curiosity landed on the red planet on August 6, 2012 to study Mars’ climate and geology, along with determining if the Gale crater was once home to life.

Five years after going ashore, Curiosity collected soil samples from Bagnold Dune, a 22-mile long group of gray dunes inside Gale when the drill stopped working.

In order not to waste the samples, Millan and her colleagues redirected them.

There are 74 cups in Curiosity’s stomach that are used to hold soil samples – nine of which contain a chemical mixture.

The results stem from a new technique used by the U.S. space agency in 2017 while the rover explored Bagnold Dunes as the rover's drill stopped working, but the ground crew redirected Curiosity to place dirt samples in cups filled with a chemical.  mix

The results stem from a new technique used by the U.S. space agency in 2017 while the rover explored Bagnold Dunes as the rover’s drill stopped working, but the ground crew redirected Curiosity to place dirt samples in cups filled with a chemical. mix

Curiosity collected soil samples from Bagnold Dune, a 22-mile long group of gray dunes inside Gale when the drill stopped working.  In order not to waste the samples, Millan and her colleagues redirected them

Curiosity collected soil samples from Bagnold Dune, a 22-mile long group of gray dunes inside Gale when the drill stopped working. In order not to waste the samples, Millan and her colleagues redirected them

Samples usually fall into empty cups, but the NASA team decided for the first time to use the filled containers instead.

While researchers found no evidence for life, such as amino acids, the results show that experiments with ‘wet chemistry derivatization’ are able to detect such signs.

“This experiment was certainly successful,” Millan told Inverse.

“Although we did not find what we were looking for, biosignatures, we showed that this technique is really promising,” she added.

There are 74 cups in Curiosity's stomach that are used to hold soil samples - nine of which contain a chemical mixture.  Samples usually fall into empty cups, but the NASA team decided for the first time to use the filled containers instead of

There are 74 cups in Curiosity’s stomach that are used to hold soil samples – nine of which contain a chemical mixture. Samples usually fall into empty cups, but the NASA team decided for the first time to use the filled containers instead of

The wet chemistry experiment will be used by Europe's upcoming Rosalind Franklin Mars rover (pictured), to be launched in September 2022

The wet chemistry experiment will be used by Europe’s upcoming Rosalind Franklin Mars rover (pictured), to be launched in September 2022

The experiment “has expanded the inventory of molecules present in samples from Mars and demonstrated a powerful tool to further enable the search for polar organic molecules of biotic or prebiotic relevance,” concluded Millan and her team in their paper published in Nature Astronomy.

The wet chemistry experiment will be used by Europe’s upcoming Rosalind Franklin Mars rover to be launched in September 2022.

It was originally scheduled to go to Mars last summer, but coronavirus restrictions delayed the necessary tests to launch.

Like the NASA Perseverance rover launched in July 2020, Rosalind Franklin will search for signs of ancient life on Mars.

The rover is equipped with a unique drill that will drill down to six and a half feet below the surface of Mars and return samples for analysis.

NASA MARCH CURIOSITY ROVER LAUNCHED IN 2011 AND HAS IMPROVED OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE RED PLANET

The Mars Curiosity rover was originally launched from Cape Canaveral, a U.S. Air Force base in Florida on November 26, 2011.

After embarking on a 350 million mile (560 million km) journey, the 1.8 billion pound ($ 2.5 billion) research vehicle landed just 1.5 miles (2.4 km) away from the earmarked landing site.

After a successful landing on August 6, 2012, the rover has traveled about 11 miles (18 km).

It was launched at the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft, and the rover made up 23 percent of the mass of the total mission.

With 80 kg (180 lb) of scientific instruments on board, the rover weighs a total of 899 kg (1,982 lb) and is powered by a plutonium fuel source.

The rover is 2.9 meters (9.5 feet) long and 2.7 meters (8.9 feet) wide and 2.2 meters (7.2 feet) high.

The Mars curiosity rover was originally intended to be a two-year mission to gather information to help answer whether the planet could support life, has liquid water, study the climate and Mars geology and has since been active for more than 2,000 days

The Mars curiosity rover was originally intended to be a two-year mission to gather information to help answer whether the planet could support life, has liquid water, study the climate and Mars geology and has since been active for more than 2,000 days

The rover was originally intended to be a two-year mission to gather information to help answer whether the planet could support life, have liquid water, study the climate and the geology of Mars.

Due to its success, the mission has been extended indefinitely and has now been active for over 2,000 days.

The rover has several scientific instruments on board, including the mast camera which consists of two cameras and can take pictures and videos in high resolution in real colors.

So far on the journey of the car-sized robot, it has encountered an ancient stream where liquid water used to flow, not long after it also discovered that a nearby area known as Yellowknife Bay billions of years ago was part of a lake that could have supported microbial life.

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