NASA’s Perseverance Rover is currently exploring Mars and is looking for evidence of the most tantric of proposals: that there could have been life on a red planet once. But it is not so easy to open a tricolor to scan for signs of life. Finding out what life once was is a matter of careful, painstaking research.
A major area of research is looking for organic compounds, which contain carbon along with other key elements such as hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. These compounds are the basis of living organisms through the carbon cycle, so identifying them on Mars is an important indicator that life can occur there, at least potentially.
Curiosity Rover found signs of organic salts on Mars in 2018, supporting the idea that Mars was once potentially habitable. However, although instruments of curiosity may indicate organic compounds, they cannot provide direct evidence of their existence, and certainly the detection of organic compounds provides an important indication of where to conduct future research. is.
“If we determine that organic salts are concentrated anywhere on Mars, we want to further investigate those areas, and ideally drill deeper below the surface where the organic materials are better protected. Can be done, ”said James MT Lewis, an organic geochemist. Research.
Lewis’s team collected data from all of Curiosity’s tools and put it together to search for more direct evidence. The team recreated the conditions in Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument, which uses ovens to heat samples to very high temperatures and find out which molecules come out. Then he saw what happened to organic salts when exposed to these conditions. They found that their results matched those found by Curiosity, supporting the idea that Curiosity actually detected organic compounds in 2018.
“We’re trying to unravel billions of years of organic chemistry,” Lewis said, “and there may be the ultimate prize in that biological record: evidence that life once existed on the red planet.”
The findings have been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.