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NASA’s Perseverance Rover Finds Organic Molecules on Mars

Nasa’s perseverance Mars rover captured an image of the floor of Jezero crater.
Nasa’s perseverance Mars rover captured an image of the floor of Jezero crater. Credit: NASA

NASA’s Perseverance rover has made a significant discovery in Mars’ Jezero Crater. It has found a variety of organic matter, which consists mainly of carbon and hydrogen, along with other elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.

Organic molecules are crucial for life as we know it on Earth. This groundbreaking finding, published in the journal Nature, holds significant implications for the ongoing search for potential signs of life on the Red Planet, as stated by the researchers.

Presence of organic molecules on the Red Planet

Scientists have already identified various types of organic molecules in Martian meteorites found on Earth, as well as in the Gale crater on Mars itself. However, researchers have been unable to definitively determine whether these materials originated from life forms (“biotic” origin) or if they have non-biological origins.

They have put forward several explanations for the presence of organic matter on the Red Planet, considering other possibilities for its formation. The search for the true origin of these organic molecules continues to be an active area of investigation.

Scientists propose that the formation of these organic molecules on Mars could be attributed to the interactions between water and dust, or they might have been delivered to the planet through dust particles or meteor impacts.

The researchers note that these organic molecules are primarily associated with minerals that are connected to water-related processes. This observation suggests that aqueous processes on Mars may have played a crucial role in the synthesis, transportation, or preservation of these potential organic compounds.

Hypotheses about the origin of organic matter on Red Planet

According to Dr. Sunanda Sharma from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, there are several hypotheses regarding the origin of organic matter on Mars based on meteorite studies and data from missions.

The rover’s instrument called Sherloc (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) observed 10 different targets on the floor of the Jezero crater, and signals of organic molecules were detected in all of them.

Sherloc is the first tool capable of fine-scale mapping and analysis of organic molecules and minerals on Mars. This technological advancement allows for a more detailed understanding of the distribution and characteristics of organic compounds on the planet.

Ashley E Murphy, a researcher at the Planetary Science Institute and co-author of the study, emphasized, “Not all organics are biological in origin. Observing spatial relationships between minerals and organics is necessary when evaluating organic origins and potential biosignatures.”

She further said, “Everything we know of life on Earth is limited to what is preserved in the rock-mineral record. On Earth, biosignatures are found in certain minerals and some minerals are better at preserving organics than others.”

In a separate discovery last year, NASA’s Curiosity rover found rocks on Mars that contained organic carbon, suggesting the possibility that ancient microorganisms might have inhabited the planet.

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