The rover was able to heat the samples to between 932 and 1508 degrees Fahrenheit and study the organic molecules released through gas analysis.
In the second paper, scientists describe the discovery of seasonal variations in methane in the Martian atmosphere over the course of nearly three Mars years, which is almost six Earth years. The results were published Thursday in the journal Science.
So, just where did the methane come from in the first place?
I asked everyone I spoke with if they thought there was life on Mars, and the consensus was maybe, maybe not.
One big reason, ten Kate said, is that it's not actually that surprising. Sulfur may have helped protect the organics even when the rocks were exposed at the surface to radiation and bleach-like substances called perchlorates.
All of which will be taken into account when several more Mars lander projects head for the Red Planet in the next two years. That's because the surface of Mars is constantly bombarded with radiation that can break down organic compounds. But early into the rover's mission, researchers discovered that carbon-rich chemical reagents were leaking out of some of SAM's components, potentially contaminating nearby samples.
However, the environment in which the mudstones were deposited - a 3.5-billion-year-old lake bed - would have been altered in other ways as the sediments settled and compressed to become rock. When they did experiments in their laboratory on Earth to bake samples containing those three types of organic carbon, the readings were all consistent with what was detected on Mars.
Lyon rubbish ‘false’ claims Nabil Fekir is set to sign for Liverpool
It's certainly a fascinating situation and it's going to be interesting to see how things progress over the next 24 hours. Liverpool fans can be encouraged somewhat, however, by the fact that Lyon have done exactly this before.
The samples were drilled from the base of Mount Sharp, inside a basin called Gale Crater that is believed to have held an ancient Martian lake. The whole exercise discovered molecules like thiophenes, benzene, and toluene indicating the presence of hydrogen and carbon, with the latter existing in concentrations higher than 10 parts per million.
NASA's scientists saw "fragments" of organic molecules that were similar to those found in sedimentary rock on Earth. Webster said. "If they could tell us there's a region of Mars where the methane seems to be coming from, that would be huge".
The methane is cool, whether it's linked to life or not.
"These clathrates lock the methane inside a water-ice crystal structure and are incredibly stable for millions of years until environmental conditions change and suddenly they can release that gas", says Duffy.
This periodicity is to Webster the most exciting part of his team's results. "It's like having a problem with your vehicle", he says. Occasionally, rocks can make produce them on their own through geological processes, and meteorites can also bring them from neighboring planets.
The rover has been seeing seasonal changes in the amount of methane in the Martian atmosphere.
The new results represent the longest systematic record of atmospheric methane, with measurements taken regularly over five years.
"Are there signs of life on Mars?" asked Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters. "It's step by step", she says.