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No real sign of life on Mars

A panoramic image of Mars taken by Curiosity’s navigation camera on its 100th Martian day, or sol, on November 16.

A panoramic image of Mars taken by Curiosity’s navigation camera on its 100th Martian day, or sol, on November 16.

The first test of Martian soil by the rover vehicle Curiosity has shown no definitive evidence that the Red Planet has the chemical ingredients to support life.

The rover did find a simple carbon compound but scientists have yet to determine whether it is native to the Red Planet or came from elsewhere

Scientists said that a scoop of sandy soil analysed by the rover’s chemistry lab contained water and a mix of chemicals but not the complex carbon-based compounds considered necessary for microbial life.

The latest findings, reported at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union convened in San Francisco, came from an instrument aboard the six-wheel rover that baked the soil and analysed the gases that were released.

Curiosity landed in Gale Crater near the Martian equator in August on a two-year mission to study whether the environment on Mars could have been favourable for life.

The soil at Curiosity’s landing site appeared similar to that found in regions visited by other Mars spacecraft, scientists said. It contained water, sulphur and poss-ibly perchlorate, a compound made up of oxygen and chlorine.

Nasa’s Phoenix lander, which touched down near the Martian arctic, had previously found perchlorate in the soil.

Curiosity did find a simple carbon compound but scientists have yet to determine whether it is native to the Red Planet or came from elsewhere.

Scientists think the best chance of finding complex carbon is at Mount Sharp, a 4.8-kilometre-high mountain rising from the crater floor.

Curiosity will not trek there until early next year.

The rover is the most sophisticated spacecraft sent to Mars. The rover Opportunity has been exploring craters in Mars’s southern hemisphere for eight years, since 2004.

Opportunity’s twin, Spirit, fell silent in 2010 after getting stuck in sand.

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