We don’t know. Maybe.
Was there life on Mars?
We don’t know, but it now looks a little more likely that there was. This evening, it was revealed that the Curiosity Rover on Mars had discovered organic matter.
This is exciting, but not proof of life. Because organic matter is… is… what exactly is organic matter?
I have a sense in my head of three different types of matter: living things, organic matter, and inorganic matter (please note that this is based entirely on my own impressions, and not on any actual scientific knowledge).
The difference between living things and inorganic matter is pretty straightforward in my mind. Rocks are inorganic. Because they’re just rocks. Monkeys and dogs and so on are living things. Because obviously they are. It’s usually easy to distinguish between the two forms, except maybe in the case of a particularly slow-moving sloth.
Organic matter though. Well that’s, like, chemicals, and stuff. Water, I’ll venture, is organic matter. But why? What separates it from inorganic matter? How is water fundamentally different from a rock?
And what about plants? I learned in school that they’re living organisms. Still, my instinct is to class them as organic matter. They’re obviously not inorganic, but at the same time they don’t do anything, do they?
I could think about this all night, so let’s look at the facts.
Organic matter is defined as matter that is generally carbon-based, and comes from the remains of plants, animals, or their waste products. Sometimes though, organic matter can be created by chemical reactions that don’t involve life. Which is I suppose where life originally came from.
Inorganic matter then, is everything else. Any matter that isn’t created in any way by organic life. Rocks, glass, metal and so on. You know: stuff that’s not organic. And usually doesn’t contain carbon.
So this discovery doesn’t prove that there’s life on Mars, but it does indicate that there might have been life in the distant past, and there still might be some hanging around. Exciting stuff!
Anyway, that’s what organic matter is. You probably hadn’t really wondered what it was, but I was curious to get to the exact meaning, and I enjoyed doing so!