CAPE CANAVERAL, Fl. - Methane in the Martian atmosphere and organic chemicals in the red planet's soil are the latest tantalizing findings of NASA's Mars Curiosity rover as it hunts for clues about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, scientists said on Tuesday.
NASA scientists said Curiosity found periodic bursts of methane, a gas that on Earth is strongly tied to life, in the atmosphere around its landing site in the red planet's Gale Crater.
The rover also has found organic chemicals in the Martian soil, the scientists said at a webcast press conference at the American Geophyscial Union conference in San Francisco.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California issued a press release saying the rover measured "a tenfold spike" in methane in the atmosphere around it, and detected other organic molecules in a sample collected by a robotic drill.
"There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock," Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, a member of the Curiosity rover science team, said in the press release.