Has Curiosity found evidence for ancient microbial life on Mars? Maybe, says noted geobiologist

Curiosity image from Yellowknife Bay, where the potential microbial mat features were first seen in sandstone rocks. Gillespie Lake Member is the series of flat rocks in the central-left area of the image. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Curiosity image from Yellowknife Bay, where the potential microbial mat features were first seen in sandstone rocks. Gillespie Lake Member is the series of flat rocks in the central-left area of the image. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This is an update to a previous post.

There is a report about Mars which has been getting a lot of attention the past few weeks (in addition to the methane and organics found): that the Curiosity rover may have found evidence for ancient microbial life itself. Specifically, microbial mats, which are common on Earth; the report comes from noted geobiologist Nora Noffke, who has been studying images sent back by the rover since it landed in 2012.

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Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy. He started his blog The Meridiani Journal in 2005, which is a chronicle of planetary exploration. He also publishes The Exoplanet Report e-paper. In 2011, he started writing about space on a freelance basis, and now also currently write for AmericaSpace and Examiner.com. He has also written for Universe Today and SpaceFlight Insider, has been published in The Mars Quarterly and has done supplementary writing for the well-known iOS app Exoplanet for iPhone and iPad.

Kepler confirms over 1,000 exoplanets, finds more potentially habitable worlds

Illustration of the eight newly verified exoplanets which are less than twice the size of Earth and orbit within their stars’ habitable zones. Image Credit: NASA/JPL
Illustration of the eight newly verified exoplanets which are less than twice the size of Earth and orbit within their stars’ habitable zones. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Even after problems threatened to end the Kepler space telescope’s mission for good last year, the planet-hunting observatory has continued to help astronomers discover thousands of exoplanets orbiting other stars, including ones that are potentially habitable. As reported yesterday at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting, Kepler has now confirmed just over 1,000 exoplanets, with thousands more awaiting confirmation. A growing number are also potentially habitable, at least by Earthly standards.

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Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy. He started his blog The Meridiani Journal in 2005, which is a chronicle of planetary exploration. He also publishes The Exoplanet Report e-paper. In 2011, he started writing about space on a freelance basis, and now also currently write for AmericaSpace and Examiner.com. He has also written for Universe Today and SpaceFlight Insider, has been published in The Mars Quarterly and has done supplementary writing for the well-known iOS app Exoplanet for iPhone and iPad.

Two new exoplanet findings bring us closer to discovering other Earth-like worlds

Artist’s conception of a super-Earth ocean world, with another gas giant planet rising over the horizon. Image Credit: David A. Aguilar/CfA
Artist’s conception of a super-Earth ocean world, with another gas giant planet rising over the horizon. Image Credit: David A. Aguilar/CfA

When it comes to exoplanets, the most exciting for many people are, of course, the ones which may be the most Earth-like, since these are regarded as the most likely to possibly support some form of life. Now, two new findings announced today will help astronomers to find these worlds and narrow down the best places to search for evidence of life in other solar systems.

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Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy. He started his blog The Meridiani Journal in 2005, which is a chronicle of planetary exploration. He also publishes The Exoplanet Report e-paper. In 2011, he started writing about space on a freelance basis, and now also currently write for AmericaSpace and Examiner.com. He has also written for Universe Today and SpaceFlight Insider, has been published in The Mars Quarterly and has done supplementary writing for the well-known iOS app Exoplanet for iPhone and iPad.

Tilted aquaplanets might still be habitable, study suggests

Artist’s conception of an ocean-covered aquaplanet. Image Credit: Christine Daniloff/MIT
Artist’s conception of an ocean-covered aquaplanet. Image Credit: Christine Daniloff/MIT

With so many exoplanets now being discovered on a regular basis by astronomers, the focus has turned to what number of them might be habitable for some kind of life. For life as we know it at least, that depends on a number of factors, including being in the “habitable zone” of stars, where liquid water could exist on the surfaces of smaller, rocky planets like Earth. It has been thought that planets with extreme axial tilts, even horizontal to the plane of their orbits, would be less likely to host life. But now a new study suggests that they could still be quite habitable, if they are covered by oceans.

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Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy. He started his blog The Meridiani Journal in 2005, which is a chronicle of planetary exploration. He also publishes The Exoplanet Report e-paper. In 2011, he started writing about space on a freelance basis, and now also currently write for AmericaSpace and Examiner.com. He has also written for Universe Today and SpaceFlight Insider, has been published in The Mars Quarterly and has done supplementary writing for the well-known iOS app Exoplanet for iPhone and iPad.

Kepler finds ‘super-Earth’ exoplanet in first discovery of new mission

Artist’s conception of super-Earth HIP 116454b. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)
Artist’s conception of super-Earth HIP 116454b. Image Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

The Kepler space telescope has found its first new exoplanet, a “super-Earth,” of its secondary mission phase. The discovery adds to a current tally of 996 confirmed exoplanets and 4,183 planetary candidates already found by the revolutionary planet-hunting telescope.

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Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy. He started his blog The Meridiani Journal in 2005, which is a chronicle of planetary exploration. He also publishes The Exoplanet Report e-paper. In 2011, he started writing about space on a freelance basis, and now also currently write for AmericaSpace and Examiner.com. He has also written for Universe Today and SpaceFlight Insider, has been published in The Mars Quarterly and has done supplementary writing for the well-known iOS app Exoplanet for iPhone and iPad.

Has Curiosity found evidence for ancient microbial life on Mars?

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Curiosity image from Yellowknife Bay, where the potential microbial mat features were first seen in sandstone rocks. Gillespie Lake Member is the series of flat rocks in the central-left area of the image. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

There is a report which has been getting a lot of attention the past few days (in addition to the methane and organics found), that the Curiosity rover may have found evidence for ancient microbial life itself on Mars. Specifically, microbial mats, which are common on Earth. The report comes from noted geobiologist Nora Noffke, who has been studying images sent back by the rover since it landed in 2012.

Continue reading →

Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy. He started his blog The Meridiani Journal in 2005, which is a chronicle of planetary exploration. He also publishes The Exoplanet Report e-paper. In 2011, he started writing about space on a freelance basis, and now also currently write for AmericaSpace and Examiner.com. He has also written for Universe Today and SpaceFlight Insider, has been published in The Mars Quarterly and has done supplementary writing for the well-known iOS app Exoplanet for iPhone and iPad.

Curiosity rover finds methane and organics on Mars

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity drilled into this rock target, "Cumberland," during the 279th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars (May 19, 2013) and collected a powdered sample of material from the rock's interior.
NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity drilled into this rock target, “Cumberland,” during the 279th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars (May 19, 2013) and collected a powdered sample of material from the rock’s interior. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

PRESS RELEASE
12.16.2014
Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
NASA Rover Finds Active and Ancient Organic Chemistry on Mars

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill. “This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, a member of the Curiosity rover science team. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”

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Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy. He started his blog The Meridiani Journal in 2005, which is a chronicle of planetary exploration. He also publishes The Exoplanet Report e-paper. In 2011, he started writing about space on a freelance basis, and now also currently write for AmericaSpace and Examiner.com. He has also written for Universe Today and SpaceFlight Insider, has been published in The Mars Quarterly and has done supplementary writing for the well-known iOS app Exoplanet for iPhone and iPad.