Organic molecules have been discovered on the surface of Mars by NASA’s Perseverance rover in a major update in the search for life.
The findings, as presented in the journal Nature, give fresh evidence that there may have once been life on the Red Planet.
The incredible discovery was made in the 28-mile-wide impact basin named Jezero crater, which is located to the north of Mars’ equator.
Several rock samples were gathered in the crater, some of which contained signatures of organic molecules.
Also known as biosignatures, organic molecules are chemical compounds normally found in living systems.
These can consist of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, among others.
Joseph Razzell Hollis, a postdoctoral fellow at London’s Natural History Museum and an author of the paper, told Newsweek: “They are an exciting clue for astrobiologists since they are often thought of as building blocks of life.
“Importantly, they can be created by processes not related to life as we know it, and so organic molecules are not evidence of life on their own without sufficient extra evidence that cannot be explained by nonbiological—or abiotic—processes,” he added.
For instance the organic molecule methane can be released by many non-biological sources, such as the eruption of volcanoes, hydrothermal vents, and comet or asteroid impacts.
However, Mr Hollis explained they were still “exciting to discover” as they “highlight the variety of organics that may have survived on Mars even after billions of years of degradation.”
The findings can provide more insight into Mars’ complex past – which can also point to its future.
Mr Hollis added to the Daily Mail: “While we still can’t say for sure whether Mars could have been habitable back then, astrobiologists believe that the presence of varied organics is incredibly important for the potential for a planet or environment to host life. “
Just last year, the same rover also detected signs of biosignatures around Mars’ Wildcat Ridge area using its SHERLOC (or Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) system.