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Curiosity Detects Fluctuating Methane Emissions on Mars

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curiosityThis could be it, folks. The evidence for life on Mars is mounting—it’s still circumstantial at this point, but every new discovery and every tantalizing hint gets us closer to answering the million (billion?) dollar question: did life ever exist on Mars? And the obvious follow up question: does life exist on Mars right now? In addition to the evidence released last week about Gale Crater’s massive lake and the amount of time they now believe Mars was ripe for life, scientists released another new finding involving surprising and fluctuating methane emissions on the Red Planet. Sure, there are a few possible explanations for the methane, but one of them is that it comes from something biological—i.e., Martians. Probably only microbial ones, but still. This is a seriously big deal.

As you might know, Curiosity Rover’s time on Mars has culminated in its journey to Mount Sharp, where it’s been examining rocks and soil buried deep below the mountain’s surface. Mount Sharp is located in Gale Crater, which scientists now know used to have a bunch of lakes, rivers, and deltas, and seems like a pretty good spot to foster some kind of life. But life is tough to find, especially when you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for. Martian meteorites have been found to contain organic compounds, but scientists still can’t say with certainty that they prove the existence of past life on Mars. So Curiosity keeps looking. One of the best ways scientists know of to hunt for life is by studying methane emissions (one of the gases responsible for the greenhouse effect).

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Curiosity Rover Discovers This Evidence For Past Life On Mars

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curiosityOne of the goals of the Curiosity Rover is to try to find evidence indicating whether life ever existed on Mars. Thanks to its work so far, we know that Mars still retains water in its surface soil. Scientists also know that Mars used to be warmer and wetter than it is now. Examinations of meteorites of Martian origin reveal organic compounds, suggesting not only that conditions there were once favorable, but that the planet did indeed harbor life. Now, Curiosity has found additional evidence supporting both of those hypotheses.

In order to determine whether life has ever existed on Mars, scientists have been looking for evidence of three criteria: water, life-supporting elements (carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorus), and a long enough period of time in which those conditions were present. It’s that last part that has proven problematic, as previous estimates about the amount of time when those conditions existed was in the neighborhood of hundreds of thousands of years—not very long at all when it comes to creating life out of chemical soup.

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Curiosity Drills Into Mount Sharp And Finds A Weird Ball

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curiosity As time goes on, the Mars-based Curiosity rover continually proves itself worthy of its name. It’s already uncovered all kinds of discoveries that have and will continue to shape the way scientists think about the Red Planet, such as the existence of water on the arid surface. Now, over two years after that dramatic landing, it has finally reached its destination, Mount Sharp. And along the way, it’s found some unusual objects.

The latest head-scratching finding is a round ball—and I mean a perfectly round ball. This one hasn’t appeared to move on its own, but its spherical shape has some scientists baffled. How did the rock come to have this shape if not smoothed and molded by human hands or technology? The best answer NASA scientists can come up with is that it’s a concretion, or a compact ball of matter that forms between sedimentary particles. Concretions are formed by precipitation of minerals into the pores of forming rock, so they often take on a spherical shape, much like tiny “blueberries” observed a decade ago by the Opportunity rover. It’s another discovery that supports the existence of water on the planet long ago.

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Curiosity Got Stuck In A Martian Sand Trap

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CuriosityIf you’re going to go through the effort of sending a mechanical explorer millions of miles across the galaxy, all the way to Mars, you better make damn sure it has the appropriate traction and can function in adverse conditions. NASA recently ran into just this problem with their Curiosity rover, which just got stuck in a sand trap, and no, it’s not the same kind of sand trap you hit your golf ball into last weekend. Curiosity has a job to do, it doesn’t have time to hit the links.

The one-ton rover is in the process of heading to Mount Sharp, which has been its ultimate destination all along, despite the meandering, roundabout route. At 3.4 miles high, the peak sits in the middle of Mars’ Gale Crater, and in order to access the site, Curiosity planned a path through the Hidden Valley (no salad dressing jokes please).

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Curiosity Celebrates Its Two-Year Anniversary On Mars

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going to mt sharpHow time flies. Can you believe the Curiosity Rover has been on Mars for two years already? Sure, Opportunity’s got more than eight years on the younger probe, but age isn’t everything. Curiosity has provided us with information about water on Mars as well as a dramatic landing. And now it’s getting ready to climb Mount Sharp, its main destination.

Mount Sharp is no joke—at 3.4 miles high, it makes Mount Rainier look small. The peak is so massive that the bedrock at its base extends for miles, forming an area called Pahrump Hills. What a great name. Curiosity is less than a mile away from this area, which will give the probe, as well as scientists, the first glimpse at whatever kind of geological structures form the mountain. Curiosity is approximately 2 miles from the mountain itself.

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There Might Be Water Flowing On Mars Right Now

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water on Mars

Earlier in the Curiosity Rover‘s travels around the Red Planet it gleaned a bunch of information about the water-soaked soil, which set the stage for this latest revelation–that water may be flowing on Mars not at some point in the distant past, but right now.

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