NASA has found “organic molecules” on Mars that could signal a breakthrough about “key building blocks for life” on the red planet, according to a new research paper.
The out-of-this-world discovery was uncovered by NASA’s Perseverance rover within Mars’ Jezero crater — a region with “high potential for past habitability as the site of an ancient lake basin with diverse minerals,” the researchers noted.
Specifically, the molecules — located inside certain Martian minerals — “may have had a key role in organic synthesis, transport or preservation.”
These molecules may also hold revelations about chemical species not yet detected by Earthlings. They could be housed within “two potentially habitable” regions of the crater — one believed to have formed around 4 billion years ago from an asteroid impact.
Jezero also features a lake basin from the collision that could give the region a unique signature prone to signs of life.
“Importantly, [the molecules] 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,” study author Joseph Razzell Hollis told Newsweek.
“We are intrigued by these signals since they could be organic and would point to the possibility that building blocks of life could have been present for a long time on the surface of Mars, in more than one place,” he added.
Although the molecules will need to be returned to Earth for a more pointed analysis of their origin, Hollis wrote that already “these results indicate a more complex organic geochemical cycle may have existed [on Mars].
“We will be able to study them in far greater detail than the rover is capable of and hopefully answer some of the bigger questions about whether or not Jezero once contained the building blocks of life,” he continued.
“But most importantly, we will know exactly where each of these samples came from on Mars.”