Space boffins at the world famous US space agency revealed the monumental discovery on Thursday in a shock announcement.
Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA‘s Mars Exploration Program, praised the agency for moving in the right direction in the hunt for life outside of Earth.
The astronomer said: “Are there signs of life on Mars? We don’t know, but these results tell us we are on the right track.”
The discovery of organic matter in three-billion-year-old Martian rock suggests the barren planet may have once been lush and teeming life.
But NASA’s scientists remained weary the findings are not conclusive proof but rather potential indicators of biological life.
Scientists already know Mars had a water sustaining atmosphere in the distant past before it almost completely and mysteriously vanished billion of years ago.
NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen is now confident the finding is an exciting reason to further explore Earth’s closest stellar neighbour.
He said: “With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life.
“I’m confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet.”
When the Martian rover drilled into an ancient lake bed inside Gale Crater on Mars, the unmanned research platform found trace amounts of organic carbon of about 10 parts per million or more.
The number might not sound like a lot on paper but it is still 100 times more than any amount of carbon ever found on the planet’s surface.
Other molecules found in the prehistoric alien rock include traces of thiophenes, benzene, toluene, and small carbon chains like propane and butene.
Firouz Naderi, former director of Solar System Exploration at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, hailed NASA’s discovery as the “Holy Grail” of space exploration.
He said: “The Holy Grail. Ever since we landed on Mars, we have been looking for organic molecules— the complex carbon chains that on Earth form the building blocks of life.
“Today NASA reported Curiosity rover has finally detected them.
“Not life but we are a step closer.”
Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s 13th administrator, also said: “Mars Curiosity rover found organic molecules on Mars.
“While this doesn’t mean that we’ve found concrete evidence of life on Mars, it is a good sign in our continuing search.
“We’re sending the Mars 2020 rover to dig deeper.”
NASA’s next unmanned mission to Mars is scheduled to blast off in 2020, followed by the first humans to reach the Red Planet by 2035.