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Mars rover Curiosity's new findings hailed as 'breakthroughs in astrobiology'

MARS (NBC NEWS) - New discoveries by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity add to a growing body of evidence supporting the idea that microscopic organisms might once have lived on the red planet — and have some scientists considering the possibility that microbial life might live there still.

As described in a pair of scientific papers published Thursday in the journal Science, Curiosity detected a range of carbon-containing compounds in ancient sediments on Mars and shifting levels of the organic molecule methane in the Martian atmosphere.

"Both these discoveries are breakthroughs in astrobiology," Inge Loes ten Kate, an astrobiologist at the Utrecht University in the Netherlands, said in a written commentary published along with the papers. She said "the question of whether life might have originated or existed on Mars is a lot more opportune now that we know that organic molecules were present on its surface" in the distant past.

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