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Why the discovery of organic molecules on Mars may be a consequence of the presence of life

Why the discovery of organic molecules on Mars may be a consequence of the presence of life

The path taken by NASA’s Perseverance rover since landing in Jezero Crater on Mars (NASA/Reuters)

Discover different organic molecules in a crater Mars suggests that red planet It may have had a more active past than previously thought, and that could have major implications for the search for it. extraterrestrial life.

Subject It was discovered by NASA’s Perseverance rover in Jezero Crater on Marsthe scientists reported Wednesday in a study they published nature coordinated by California Institute of Technology.

Organic molecules are mainly composed of carbonand often includes other elements such as hydrogenAnd oxygenAnd nitrogenAnd match And matchsticks. They make an exciting track for Astrobiologists Because life as we know it depends on organic molecules. Finding, characterizing and identifying them Mars It is important to better understand which ones could be evidence of life, and which are not, according to experts.

Potential detection of several types of organic carbon On Mars traces on Understanding the carbon cycle on Mars and The ability of the planet to support life throughout its history.” Amy Williams A signatory to the study is the University of Florida.

Image of the area studied by Perseverance, cut along the path marked in white. The graph shows the average number of detections during SHERLOC scans. Below, scanned photos of the targets in the studio. (Sharma et al. 2023 / Nature)

Study authors It cannot be ruled out that the materials have a “biological” origin.which means they are result of life on this planet. But it could also have been shaped by phenomena GeologistLike the interactions between water and dust or throwing it at the planet soil also meteors.

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The results of the research indicate that there may be a diversity of organic molecules prevalent on Mars, which persist despite severe radiation exposure.

It can be found largely within its associated minerals aquatic operations, indicating that these processes may have played a major role in the synthesis, transport or storage of organic compounds in Mars’ past. in the crater of a volcano Jezerothe place where the discovery was made, About 3.7 billion years ago There would have been a lakeA convenient place to look for signs of a past life. The site has a high potential for habitation in the past with many minerals present, incl carbonateAnd mud And sulfate It can preserve organic matter and potential biological effects.

Remnants of a fan-shaped sediment deposit within Mars’ Jezero Crater known as Delta in Perseverance image (NASA/JPL-CALTECH/ASU/MSSS)

“We did not originally expect to detect these potential organic signatures in the floor of Jezero Crater, but their diversity and distribution across different crater floor units now indicates different potential carbon fates in these environments,” said Williams.

“The results represent an important step forward in our exploration of the Red Planet and lay the foundation for it Future research on the possibility of extraterrestrial lifeadded the scientist.

Perseverance at the surface of Jezero Crater (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via REUTERS)

Study data is from September 2021 and was collected by the tool Sherlock (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence of Organic Matter and Chemicals) By perseverance. The rover is designed for on-site science, with the ability to collect a collection of samples for eventual return to Earth. More importantly, they carry extremely useful tools for searching for life. Sherlock It is the first machine on Mars capable of performing maps drawing And Accurate analysis of organic molecules.

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The researchers focused particularly on the SHERLOC data obtained in protection And Seetah, two rock formations located at the bottom of the crater. There, Sherlock finds evidence of many different classes of organic molecules. The researchers’ modeling indicates that these compounds may contain It originated from a large number of minerals and formation mechanisms, which are mostly associated with hydrated minerals.

Scientists have found it Hints of Organic Molecules in the Ten Persistent Targets Excavated at Mu’adh Wasitacovering a minimum time period of 2.3 to 2.6 billion years.

This image shows a rock target called “Garde” as analyzed by Perseverance’s SHERLOC instrument. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/LANL/PhotonSys)

The building blocks of life may have been around for an extended period of timealong with other as-yet-undiscovered chemical species, which “could be preserved in these two potentially habitable environments in Jezero Crater,” the study states.

Scientists have not been able to identify specific organic molecules. To confirm their specific species, it is necessary to bring samples back to Earth, the main objective of the future mission. Mars sample return.

Mars might have had it Earth-like early geological historySo we use our knowledge of life as we know it on Earth to know where to look for possible evidence of past life on Mars.” Ashley E Murphya researcher at the Institute for Planetary Sciences and co-author of the article in nature. “Organic mapping allows us to better understand whether the Martian carbon cycle is similar to or different from Earth’s, and the potential of Mars to support life.”

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