NASA Mars Rover Curiosity has detected carbon trapped in rocks that may indicate evidence of past life on the Red Planet.
NASA Mars Rover Curiosity has been exploring the surface of the Red Planet since 2012 to learn more about its composition, surface, atmosphere and possible signs of life. The long-drawn-out research on Mars has been quite extensive, and scientists are literally leaving no stone unturned to discover the truth. Yesterday, January 17, the Mars rover Curiosity team announced something unusual that could point to evidence of past life on Mars. The NASA Mars team has discovered carbon trapped in multiple rocks examined by the rover.
Now, finding carbon in itself isn’t that exciting. However, the carbon Curiosity has discovered is surprisingly enriched with light isotopes of carbon, which would have been a strong indicator of life. Let’s understand what this finding means and what its possible implications might be.
NASA Mars Rover Curiosity discovers carbon signatures
Before delving into the findings of NASA Mars Rover Curiosity itself, it’s important to note that carbon exists in two stable forms of isotope, namely carbon-12, a ‘slight’ variation that makes up most of the world’s carbon. . And the other is carbon-13, where the element is weighted down by an extra neutron. Now, because of an extra neutron in its structure, carbon-13 makes stronger bonds with other elements and does not easily participate in chemical reactions. On the other hand, carbon-12 easily splits and forms complex structures that yield results, e.g. life on Earth.
NASA Mars Rover Curiosity team examined 24 rocks in Gale Crater, a remnant of an ancient lake. Curiosity baked these rocks in a kiln in the rover and discovered the existence of methane. In at least six locations, the concentration of carbon-12 in methane was more than 70 parts per thousand. Shockingly, that’s higher than what’s even found on Earth.
Christopher House, a biochemist at Pennsylvania State University and lead author of the study, said that “it was a dramatic signal” and that it “increases the likelihood” that microorganisms could have existed on Mars in the past.
While this finding is by no means conclusive, it raises the hopes of the entire scientific community to better understand the planet and the possible existence of life on Mars.