NASA's Curiosity rover finds organic matter on Mars (CNN) Organic matter has been found on Mars in soil samples taken from 3 billion-year-old mudstone in the Gale crater by the Curiosity rover, NASA announced Thursday. The rover also detected methane in the Martian atmosphere.

The search for life outside the Earth focuses on the basic components of life as we know it, which includes organic compounds and molecules, although they may exist without life. Organic matter can be one of several things: a record that details ancient life, a source of food for life or something that exists in the place of life.

No matter their purpose, they function as "chemical clues" for researchers on Mars.
Methane is considered the simplest organic molecule. It is present in other parts of our solar system that could harbor life, such as Saturn and the moons of Jupiter Enceladus, Europa and Titan. And if life exists elsewhere, it can be very different or even formed differently from the way we understand life on Earth.

The new findings are also detailed in two studies published Thursday in the journal Science. Together, the researchers believe that these findings are "advances in astrobiology."
"We have greatly expanded our search for organic compounds, which is critical in the search for life," said Paul Mahaffy, study author and director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

The two studies are based on smaller detections of atmospheric methane and ancient organic compounds on Mars. Those detections sparked debate or lacked the context for understanding, the researchers said.
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