NASAs Curiosity Mars rover utilized its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to catch this location at the edge of a location nicknamed “Yellowknife Bay.” Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Freshly released research study measures the presence of natural carbon in Martian rocks.
For the very first time, researchers using information from NASAs Curiosity rover determined the overall organic carbon– a key element in the particles of life– in Martian rocks.
“We discovered at least 200 to 273 parts per million of organic carbon. This is similar to or even more than the amount discovered in rocks in very low-life places on Earth, such as parts of the Atacama Desert in South America, and more than has been discovered in Mars meteorites.”
Organic carbon is carbon that is bound to a hydrogen atom. Organic carbon has actually been discovered on Mars before, however prior measurements just produced details on particular compounds, or represented measurements catching just a part of the carbon in the rocks. Adding oxygen and heat permits the carbon particles to break apart and react carbon with oxygen to make CO2. “In this case, the isotopic composition can truly only tell us what portion of the overall carbon is organic carbon and what portion is mineral carbon,” said Stern. “While biology can not be totally ruled out, isotopes can not actually be used to support a biological origin for this carbon, either, since the range overlaps with igneous (volcanic) carbon and meteoritic organic material, which are most likely to be the source of this organic carbon.”
Organic carbon is carbon that is bound to a hydrogen atom. Because natural carbon can also come from nonliving sources, its existence on Mars does not show the presence of life there. Organic carbon has been found on Mars prior to, however prior measurements only produced info on specific substances, or represented measurements recording simply a portion of the carbon in the rocks.
NASAs Curiosity Mars rover utilized its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to capture this area at the edge of an area nicknamed “Yellowknife Bay.” The image is a mix of 3 mosaics taken on December 24, 25, and 28, 2012 (the 137th, 138th, and 141st Martian days, or sols, of the mission). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
The surface area of Mars is currently inhospitable for life, there is evidence that billions of years ago the environment was more Earth-like, with a thicker atmosphere and liquid water that streamed into seas and rivers. Since liquid water is essential for life as we comprehend it, researchers believe Martian life, if it ever evolved, might have been sustained by crucial active ingredients such as organic carbon, if present in an adequate quantity.
Interest is advancing the field of astrobiology by investigating Mars habitability, studying its climate and geology. The rover drilled samples from 3.5 billion-year-old mudstone rocks in the “Yellowknife Bay” development of Gale Crater, the site of an ancient lake on Mars. Mudstone at Gale Crater was formed as very great sediment (from physical and chemical weathering of volcanic rocks) in water picked the bottom of a lake and was buried. Organic carbon became part of this product and got included into the mudstone. Besides liquid water and organic carbon, Gale Crater had other conditions favorable to life, such as chemical energy sources, low-acidity, and other aspects vital for biology, such as sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen. “Basically, this area would have provided a habitable environment for life, if it ever existed,” said Stern, lead author of a paper about this research study published June 27 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The NASA Mars rover Curiosity utilized its left Navigation Camera to tape-record this view of the step down into a shallow depression called Yellowknife Bay. The descent into the basin crossed an action about 2 feet high, noticeable in the upper half of this image.NASAs Curiosity Mars rover utilized its Navigation Camera (Navcam) to record this view after it entered a location nicknamed “Yellowknife Bay” on December 12, 2012, the 125th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This experiment used oxygen and heat to transform the organic carbon to carbon dioxide (CO2), the amount of which is determined to get the quantity of organic carbon in the rocks. Including oxygen and heat permits the carbon molecules to break apart and react carbon with oxygen to make CO2. Some carbon is locked up in minerals, so the oven heats up the sample to really high temperature levels to break down those minerals and launch the carbon to transform it to CO2.
This process likewise enabled SAM to determine the carbon isotope ratios, which assist to comprehend the source of the carbon. Isotopes are versions of an aspect with slightly different weights (masses) due to the presence of one or more extra neutrons in the center (nucleus) of their atoms. For instance, carbon-12 has six neutrons while the much heavier carbon-13 has 7 neutrons. Because heavier isotopes tend to react a bit more slowly than lighter isotopes, the carbon from life is richer in carbon-12. “In this case, the isotopic composition can truly just inform us what part of the overall carbon is natural carbon and what portion is mineral carbon,” said Stern. “While biology can not be completely ruled out, isotopes can not actually be utilized to support a biological origin for this carbon, either, because the range overlaps with igneous (volcanic) carbon and meteoritic organic material, which are most likely to be the source of this organic carbon.”
The research study was funded by NASAs Mars Exploration Program. Interests Mars Science Laboratory objective is led by NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California; JPL is handled by Caltech.