NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered previously unknown organic molecules on Mars, including ammonia, benzoic acid and ammonia. These could be indicators of ancient life.
The American space agency used a new technique in 2017 to re-route Curiosity after the drill on the rover failed. Instead of using the usual empty containers, place dirt samples in cups that have been pre-filled with a chemical mix.
The dirt contained trace amounts ammonia as well as benzoic acids, which are naturally found in plants and animals.
The molecules are not biosignatures, evidence of past or present life, but according Maëva Millan, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, they are good indicators of the presence of biosignatures.
“One of the things that were we trying to look for” [when searching for]Millan stated that organic molecule is necessary to understand Mars’ past habitability, and to look for bioindicators.
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NASA’s Curiosity discovered previously unknown organic molecules that could indicate ancient life (stock) on Mars. Sample dirt taken by the rover revealed trace amounts of benzoic and ammonia.
Curiosity landed on the Red Planet August 6, 2012 to examine the Martian climate, geology, and determine if Gale Crater was once home for life.
Curiosity, five years after landing on the ground, was collecting soil samples from Bagnold Dune. This 22-mile-long group, made up of gray dunes, was located inside Gale. When its drill stopped working, Curiosity had already been five years.
Millan and her colleagues rerouted samples so they wouldn’t be wasted.
There are 74 cups housed in the belly of Curiosity that are used to hold soil samples – nine of which contain a chemical mixture.
These findings are a result of a new technique that was used by the American Space Agency in 2017. The rover was exploring Bagnold Dunes when its drill stopped working. However, the ground team rerouted Curiosity to collect dirt samples from cups pre-filled with a chemical mix.
Curiosity was collecting soil samples at the Bagnold Dune in Gale when its drill quit working. Millan and her coworkers rerouted the samples in order to not waste them.
Normally, samples are dropped in empty cups. But the NASA team decided to use pre-filled containers for the first time.
Although researchers didn’t find any evidence of life, such a as amino acids, the results show that ‘wet chemical derivatization’ experiments can reveal such signs.
Millan stated to Inverse that the experiment was a success.
“While we haven’t found biosignatures, which is what we were searching for, we did show that this technique was really promising,” she said.
There are 74 cups housed in the belly of Curiosity that are used to hold soil samples – nine of which contain a chemical mixture. Normally, samples are dropped in empty cups. However, the NASA team decided to use the prefilled containers instead.
The Rosalind Franklin Mars rover, which will be launched in September 2022, will use the wet chemical experiment.
Millan and her team concluded that the experiment “has expanded the inventory molecules present in Martian sample and demonstrated a powerful instrument to further enable search for polar organ molecules of biotic/prebiotic relevance,” in their paper published by Nature Astronomy.
The European Rosalind Franklin Mars Rover, which is due to launch in September 2022, will use the wet chemistry experiment.
It was originally supposed to go to Mars last summer. However, coronavirus restrictions prevented it from launching.
Rosalind Franklin, much like the NASA Perseverance robot, will search Mars in search of signs of ancient life.
The drill is unique and can bore down to six feet below the Martian surface. It also returns samples for analysis.