Organic molecules unveiled on Mars by Curiosity’s new kind of experiment

Organic molecules unveiled on Mars by Curiosity's new kind of experiment

FIG. 1: Sample collection in context. Credit: DOI: 10.1038 / s41550-021-01507-9

An international team of space scientists working with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has found unprecedented organic molecules on Mars using a new experiment aboard the Curiosity rover. The results are published in the journal Nature astronomy.

To date, NASA has sent nine orbiters and six rovers to Mars, in part to learn more about the possibility of extraterrestrial life. For that purpose, the planet has been photographed with different types of cameras. Recently, rovers have dug into the Martian soil to collect samples for analysis. The goal of such work is to learn more about the chemicals in the soil at or near the surface, but more specifically to see if it contains organic molecules. If so, they could be evidence of life or past life on the planet. The rovers have found organic molecules, but the samples were not sufficient to claim that they were produced or used by a living organism. Therefore, the search continues. In this new effort, after the Curiosity rover’s exercise stopped working in 2017, the control team chose to perform a type of experiment that had not been performed by the rover before.

Curiosity carries an instrument called Sample Analysis at Mars, a series of cups that hold samples of soil while being analyzed. The array has 74 cups – all but nine of them are empty most of the time. The other nine contain chemicals used to perform other types of experiments. Due to the drilling failure, the team at NASA chose to drop soil samples in the cups with the chemicals and then analyze the chemicals released due to reactions. Scientists found organic molecules in Earth that had never been seen on Mars before. Although the new experiment found no evidence of life, it showed that there are other new ways to test for it on Mars and other planets.

Salts could be an important part of Mars’ organic puzzle, the researchers find

More information:
M. Millan et al., Organic molecules revealed in Mars’ Bagnold Dunes in Curiosity’s derivatization experiment, Nature astronomy (2021). DOI: 10.1038 / s41550-021-01507-9

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