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Curiosity Finds Methane, Other Organics

NASA's Curiosity rover has detected both methane in Mars's atmosphere and carbon-bearing organic compounds in its rocks.

Organics are molecules made up of carbon atoms linked to other elements, especially combinations of hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. But they don’t automatically signal “life.” Dozens of different organic molecules occur abiotically in interstellar clouds, and they can rain down from space as micrometeoritic dust. Either way, organics would break down fast in the hostile Martian environment, destroyed by solar ultraviolet rays or by the strongly oxidizing soil, so missions have had trouble detecting them.

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