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Israeli astrobiologist: New Mars ancient life findings ‘important’ but incomplete

Dr. Reut Sorek Abramovich says NASA discovery of signs of carbon in Red Planet rock samples requires ‘thorough research in the field,’ preferably by manned mission

This composite image made from a series of Jan. 23, 2018 photos shows a self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on Vera Rubin Ridge. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via AP)
This composite image made from a series of Jan. 23, 2018 photos shows a self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on Vera Rubin Ridge. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via AP)

An Israeli astrobiologist has said that recent news about signs of ancient life possibly being discovered on Mars are intriguing, but require a great deal more research to confirm.

Last week, NASA revealed that its Mars Curiosity rover had discovered rock samples “rich in a type of carbon that on Earth is associated with biological processes.”

“On Earth, processes that would produce the carbon signal we’re detecting on Mars are biological,” said Christopher House, a scientist at Penn State who led the study of Curiosity’s findings. “We have to understand whether the same explanation works for Mars, or if there are other explanations, because Mars is very different.”

Israeli astrobiologist Dr. Reut Sorek Abramovich told the Israel Space Agency following the discovery that the recent findings could signify a major breakthrough, but that it is too soon to draw broad conclusions.

“These findings are certainly interesting and innovative, but if there is one thing Mars has taught us, it is that it is not worth jumping to conclusions,” Sorek Abramovich said.

“This is a planet that constantly forces us to doubt and find physical explanations for phenomena, which if they had occurred on Earth, could have been easily explained through biological processes,” she added. “Therefore, although these are important findings that may indicate the existence of life on Mars in the past, it is important to bring back samples from the area or better yet, to launch a manned mission that will conduct comprehensive and thorough research in the field.”

Photo taken by the Curiosity rover on August 7, 2014 shows sedimentary signs of a possible Martian Lakebed. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Scientists agree more powerful spacecraft — and, ideally, rocks returned to Earth from Mars — are needed to prove whether tiny organisms like bacteria ever existed on the Red Planet.

Scientists have been seeking organic molecules on Mars ever since the 1976 Viking landers. The twin Vikings came up pretty much empty.

Arriving at Mars in 2012 with a drill and its own onboard labs, Curiosity confirmed the presence of organics in rocks in 2013, but the molecules weren’t exactly what scientists expected, and they have kept looking.

AP contributed to this report.

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