NASA Finding Organics On Mars Is Nothing To Get Excited About

The internet is awash with news that NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has detected carbon compounds on Mars. Some people may have you believe that the news suggests there's life on Mars — but don't get too excited just yet.

Carbon compounds...

One of Curiosity's main goals is to hunt out organics on Mars. These are carbon-based molecules that we take for granted on Earth, but which are the fundamental blocks from which carbon-based life forms are built. Finding them could suggest that life exits — or did exist — on Mars.

The news from NASA shows that, when soil was tested using Curiosity's onboard chemistry set, carbon, hydrogen and chlorine were present and capable of reacting with each other to form organic compounds. tantalising. Does that mean, then, that there's life on the planet?

...but no signs of life

Hold on a minute though. An important point in this story is that the samples were tested in the onboard equipment of Curiosity. In fact, they're heated up in something akin to a miniature oven — and it's not clear whether the carbon found in the samples was actually from the surface of Mars, or simply residue in the device from back here on Earth.

Even if the carbon was from the surface of Mars, it's not enough to suggest there was life on the planet, because the element could be present in inorganic sources, too, like carbonate rocks. If you need it from a more official source, then senior NASA scientist Paul Mahaffy spells it out quite clearly:

"We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point."

So, sure, organics are present on Mars. But that could be because NASA took them there, or because they were created from inorganic sources or maybe — and it's a very big maybe — they're a hangover from Martian life. Either way, NASA has no way of telling, so you shouldn't get too excited about it either. [NASA, New Scientist]

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Comments

    I dont get it. What's the point of the mission if the tests are inconclusive due to 'foreign matter' from earth skewing the results?????

      Well the intention was for there to be no foreign matter. They can only try their best. Now they just need to analyse and test to rule it out. Science is very slow, difficult and messy.

    So will NASA be paying a tax on that carbon? I for one don't think the should start ruining the climate on Mars!

      ...Are you serious? Did we read the same article and understand the same things that were written?

      Stop trying to turn Mars into a greenie socialist shithole!

        Dudes, relax, I'm pretty sure that was a joke...

          I really hope it was a joke. If not they might be the dumbest person ever

            Of course it was a joke, as was mine.

            Welcome to the internet, newfriend!

    "...so you shouldn’t get too excited about it either. "
    That's it kids, we're making scientific advancements, and we're taking small steps towards answering the 'big question', but for gods sake don't get excited about science.
    The last thing humanity needs is people being inspired by science, go back to your gangnam style, and Nicki Minaj.

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