Does Mars harbor life? Our red neighbor is still full of mysteries, and the presence of past or present life on its surface has not yet been proven.
Scientific findings should be taken with great caution. Indeed, if isolated phenomena are identified only in such and such a place, they constitute only the first stage of a large body of clues aimed at approving a theory. As for our red neighbor, the question that has been on everyone’s mind for centuries is obviously whether it harbors life. If the recent discoveries suggested that, yes, Mars had indeed been able to shelter life millions of years ago, a new study published this November 1 in the very serious journal Nature comes to bring a glimmer of hope to lovers of little green men.
Indeed, according to the publication, the Curiosity rover would have discovered during these samples on Mars in 2017 traces of organic matter. A discovery that has enough to make all NASA scientists jump for joy. If this find is not a first in the strict sense of the term, organic matter having already been found in the past on Mars, it makes it possible to consolidate the theory that the red planet did indeed shelter life, and it could even, according to some theories, still be a home for extraterrestrial species.
Molecules never before seen on Mars
To fully understand the magnitude of this discovery, we need to look in more detail at the different molecules found in the soil of Mars. According to the NASA team behind this discovery, it is benzoic acid and ammonia. Two substances that had never been seen on Mars before. If it is not amino acids these two molecules are a very important clue in our knowledge of the red planet, and the theory according to which the latter could shelter life at a time of its life.
In March 2020 Curiosity had already discovered thiophenes. An organic compound that is found on Earth mainly in natural gas or oil, but surprisingly also in white truffles. This molecule, made up of four carbon atoms and one sulfur atom, can be formed in several ways. The first does not include a life form, it assumes that the red planet has been hot enough (120 degrees) for the precursor compounds to reduce their levels of sulphates. This can happen on Mars during the fall of an asteroid where the temperature suddenly rises under the violence of the impact, and thus exceeds 100 degrees.
In the other hypothesis, this small compound is formed thanks to bacteria which reduce the proportion of sulphates and thus allow thiophenes to develop. In order to find out which model is in place on Mars, NASA researchers are now turning their eyes to Perseverance, another US space agency rover, which should be able to answer these questions in the coming years.