Mars in a Minute: Why is Curiosity Looking for Organics?


March 06, 2013

Has Mars ever had the right ingredients for life? What are organic molecules, and what can they tell us about the history of Mars? Learn more in this 60-second video from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


TRANSCRIPT

Organics are carbon-based molecules - key ingredients to life. If Curiosity finds organics in ancient rocks, thereʼs a better chance Mars once had good conditions for small life forms called microbes.

But, finding organics is hard! Thatʼs because organics easily break down when exposed to harsh things like extreme radiation and chemical oxidants that gave the Martian surface its rusty color.

A great place to look for ancient organics today is in rock layers. Organics that were quickly trapped and buried in layers of mud or in sediments that sank to the bottom of a body of water could have an especially good chance of being preserved.

Scientists think Curiosityʼs landing site, Gale Crater, contains those special layers, created in ancient times when water was present. The water dried up long ago, but rock layers that remain today could still preserve organics inside.

If Curiosity finds organics, it wouldnʼt prove life existed, but it sure would improve the odds that Mars once had the right ingredients for life!

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