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Curiosity: Discovering Organic Molecules on Mars

Curiosity: Discovering Organic Molecules on Mars

Possible new clues to Martian life come from the rover NASA’s curiosity which lies within Gale crater (Don’t confuse it with the persistent rover, which has been exploring Jezero crater since the spring of 2021.). The rover has been asked to try a new technology to find evidence of possible life on Mars, and the initial results were exciting, identifying hitherto undiscovered organic molecules.

It is not said that… It is noteworthy that when we talk about “organic molecules on Mars” we do not necessarily mean “life” on the Red Planet: they are simply molecules made up of the elements that form the basis of life, such as carbon, hydrogen, phosphorous and others.

Curiosity’s work, the results of which were published in the journal natural astronomy, near Bagnold Dunes, inside the crater where the rover operates. Here he took some materials that were analyzed by a method called “wet chemistry”. The work involved transferring material taken in December 2017 to the SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) instrument. The SAM contained 74 sample holding and examination “cups”, of which 65 held the study material heated, and the other 9 contained sample analysis solvents differently.

Free from amino acids. The method used, based on wet chemistry, uses a specific chemical mixture, which, together with the soil sample taken, allows the detection of various components including new organic molecules. In particular, benzonic acid and ammonia were detected, while – the researchers emphasized – amino acids were not recognized.

“This experiment was very important, even if we didn’t find true ‘biological fingerprints’, as it demonstrated its ability to identify even complex organic materials,” explains Maëva Millan of NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, who has continued the work.

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This is not new. Curiosity already discovered OrganicsBut the researchers did not expect to find them in this region, where it has long been exposed to space radiation, which is extremely harmful to the survival of these particles. A tool similar to the one on Curiosity (which isn’t in Perseverance) is on board the Rosalind Franklin, ESA, and Roscosmos rover to be launched in 2022 that will sample soil and rocks up to two meters deep, where life is much more likely than at the surface. .