NASA discovery puts life on Mars "on the table"

A self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via Getty Images

NASA scientists found evidence on Mars that suggests ancient life could have existed on the planet, providing "a piece of the Mars puzzle that scientists have long been seeking," per the New York Times. Specifically, scientists found organic matter in rock fragments that formed billions of years ago.

But, but, but: This isn't direct evidence of life itself, NASA cautions. Per the Times, the carbon molecules discovered by NASA's Curiosity rover can be found in meteorites, and can be produced "in chemical reactions that do not involve biology."

The details: After heating the rock fragments "to more than 900 degrees Fahrenheit," the NYT reports, Curiosity identified molecules that "wafted away" due to the high temperature. Scientists then examined which molecules were "genuine Martian organics." The molecules that remained were benzene and propane.

  • Scientists haven't pinned down how the molecules were formed, but are considering meteorites, biology and geology.
  • The argument for biology — that is, live material on the planet — isn't supported by "compelling evidence," the NYT reports, but NASA biogeochemist Jennifer L. Eigenbrode told the Times it's "on the table."

Another finding was that methane levels in Mars' atmosphere have gone "up and down by a factor of three...and appear to follow Martian seasons," per the Times.

What's next

Trump team opts to not burn down the house

Trump attorney Jay Sekulow holds the Mueller report as Rep. Adam Schiff and other impeachment managers listen. Photo: Senate TV via AP

On opening day of the defense casePresident Trump's legal team didn't try to burn down the house by going after the Bidens.

The state of play: The team put on a fairly conventional legal rebuttal — trying to poke holes in the House impeachment managers' case, and arguing that Democrats just don't have enough evidence of wrongdoing to throw Trump out of office — especially in a year when he's up for re-election.

Trump approaches speedy acquital

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

Officials in both parties tell Axios that — barring surprise new information — President Trump is on a glide path to swift acquittal at his Senate impeachment trial, despite a blizzard of evidence bolstering Democrats' accusations.

Why it matters: Trump has a decent chance of avoiding witnesses and of losing zero Republican votes on conviction. When the news of Trump's Ukraine scandal broke, few thought every single Republican in the House and Senate would have his back. Bill Clinton pined for such unity. 

U.S. evacuates personnel as coronavirus death toll climbs

A health worker checks the temperatures of Chinese travelers arriving in Beijing from Wuhan. Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

56 people have died from an outbreak of a coronavirus strain that originated in Wuhan, China, according to the Chinese National Health Commission.

The latest: The U.S. Embassy in Beijing announced plans to evacuate its Wuhan consulate personnel and some private citizens on a limited-capacity charter flight from the city to San Francisco on Tuesday, per AP, which reports that those "at greater risk from coronavirus" would be prioritized over others.

Go deeperArrowJan 20, 2020 - World