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NASA Rover Hits Organic Pay Dirt on Mars

Samples taken from two different drill sites on an ancient lakebed have yielded complex organic macromolecules that look strikingly similar to the goopy fossilized building blocks of oil and gas on Earth. At a few dozen parts per million, the detected levels are 100 times higher than previous finds. Although the team cannot yet say whether these molecules stem from life or a more mundane geological process, they demonstrate that organics can be preserved for billions of years in the harsh martian surface environment, says Jennifer Eigenbrode, a biogeochemist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who led a study in this week’s Science. “We’re in a really good position to move forward looking for signs of life.”

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