Could There Be Life on Mars Curiosity Searches for Evidence of Life

Could There Be Life on Mars Curiosity Searches for Evidence of Life
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover used the Mast Camera or Mastcam to capture this area at the edge of the "Yellowknife Bay" location. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The newly published research will measure the presence of organic carbon in Martian rocks. According to Jennifer Stern of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, "total organic carbon is one of numerous measurements [or indices] that help us determine how much material is available as feedstock for prebiotic chemistry and possibly biology." makes a statement.

At least 200 to 273 parts per million of organic carbon have been discovered. This is equal to or higher than the amount found in rocks from extremely harsh environments on Earth, such as parts of the Atacama Desert in South America, and even exceeds the amount found in meteorites from Mars.

The carbon attached to a hydrogen atom is called organic carbon. All known life forms need and are built on these organic molecules. However, the presence of organic carbon on Mars does not imply the existence of life, as it can arise from potentially inanimate sources.

For example, it can be caused by meteorites, volcanoes or local surface reactions. While organic carbon has been discovered on Mars before, previous measurements either only provided data on specific molecules or captured only a small amount of carbon in rocks. The updated measurement provides information on the total amount of organic carbon found in these rocks.

Although there is currently no life on the surface of Mars, there is evidence that life may have been there billions of years ago, with a thicker atmosphere, rivers and oceans when the planet's temperature was closer to Earth's.

Liquid water is necessary for life as we know it. Researchers believe that if Martian life did one day arise, it could have continued if essential components such as organic carbon were present in sufficient quantities.

Curiosity advances the science of astrobiology by studying the habitability of Mars and analyzing its geology and climate. Gale Crater, where an ancient lake is located on Mars, has the "Yellowknife Bay" formation of mudstone rocks dating back 3.5 billion years. Mudstone formed in Gale Crater when very fine silt from the physical and chemical weathering of volcanic rocks in water fell to the bottom of a lake and was buried. This substance contained organic carbon absorbed by mudstone. In addition to liquid water and organic carbon, Gale Crater had chemical energy sources and low acidity, along with additional biologically essential components such as oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences"Basically, this location would offer a habitable environment for life, if it existed," said Stern, lead author of a paper on this research published June 27 in .

Curiosity delivered the sample it had taken for measurement to the Sample Analysis (SAM) device on Mars. This device has a furnace at progressively higher temperatures of powdered rock.

NASA Curiosity Rover Yellowknife Bay Mars
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity used its left Navigation Camera to record this step descending into a shallow depression called 'Yellowknife Bay'. The descent into the basin crossed a step about 2 feet high, which can be seen in the upper half of this image.
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover used the Navigation Camera (Navcam) to capture this image after it entered a location nicknamed "Yellowknife Bay" on December 12, 2012, on or to the left of the mission's 125th Martian day. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This experiment converts the organic carbon into the measured carbon dioxide CO to obtain the amount of organic carbon in the rocks.2 It used oxygen and heat to transform it. Adding oxygen and heat causes the carbon molecules to break down and the carbon reacts with oxygen to produce CO.2 allows to create

Since some carbon is retained in the minerals, it is necessary to break down the minerals and then produce CO.2The sample must be heated to extremely high temperatures in the furnace to release carbon that can be converted to .

Although the experiment was conducted in 2014, it took years to understand the data and put the findings into perspective with other explorations of the mission's Gale Crater. During Curiosity's decade on Mars, the resource-intensive experiment was performed only once.

In addition, SAM was able to determine carbon isotope ratios, which is useful in determining the origin of carbon. Isotopes are variations of an element that have slightly different masses (weights) as a result of having one or more extra neutrons in the nucleus (nucleus) of its atoms.

For example, carbon-12 has six neutrons, but the heavier carbon-13 has seven.

Carbon from life contains more carbon-12 because heavier isotopes react a little slower than lighter ones. According to Stern, the isotopic composition in this scenario can only tell us how much of the total carbon is organic carbon and how much is mineral carbon.

The spectrum of isotopes overlaps with igneous (volcanic) carbon and meteoritic organic material, which are most likely sources of this organic carbon, so while biology cannot be completely ruled out, it cannot be used to suggest a biological origin for this carbon.

The research was funded by NASA's Mars Exploration Program. Curiosity's Mars Science Laboratory mission is based at NASA's Southern California Jet Propulsion Laboratory managed by; JPL is managed by Caltech. The SAM was built and tested at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Charles Malespin is SAM's principal investigator.

Source: Sciencedaily

 

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