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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.

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Large coronavirus outbreaks leading to high death rates — Coronavirus cases are at an all-time high ahead of Election Day — U.S. tops 88,000 COVID-19 cases, setting new single-day record.
  2. Politics: States beg for Warp Speed billions.
  3. World: Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases.
  4. 🎧Podcast: The vaccine race turns toward nationalism.

Technical glitch in Facebook's ad tools creates political firestorm

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: SOPA Images / Contributor

Facebook said late Thursday that a mix of "technical problems" and confusion among advertisers around its new political ad ban rules caused issues affecting ad campaigns of both parties.

Why it matters: A report out Thursday morning suggested the ad tools were causing campaign ads, even those that adhered to Facebook's new rules, to be paused. Very quickly, political campaigners began asserting the tech giant was enforcing policies in a way that was biased against their campaigns.

5 hours ago - Health

States beg for Warp Speed billions

A COVID-19 drive-thru testing center yesterday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Photo: David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP

Operation Warp Speed has an Achilles' heel: States need billions to distribute vaccines — and many say they don't have the cash.

Why it matters: The first emergency use authorization could come as soon as next month, but vaccines require funding for workers, shipping and handling, and for reserving spaces for vaccination sites.