NASA's Curiosity rover recently detected possible organic debris on the surface of Mars. Using equipment from the rover, researchers were able to identify molecules that could be organic salts. However, further analysis and use of other equipment from the rover is still needed.
The unmanned vehicle Curiosity, which is making a road-trip SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) uses a small, oven-like chamber to burn samples at up to 1,000 °C. From this burning, the equipment analyzes the gases released and the temperatures required to do so. This method then provides evidence about the presence of certain molecules.
The CheMin (Chemistry and Mineralogy Instrument), on the other hand, uses X-rays to identify the quantity of certain atoms, such as carbon, in a sample. The equipment does this by evaluating the diffraction angle of the rays.
It turns out that according to the research, published in the journal Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets These organic salts may be, according to the authors, remnants of microbiological life on Mars.
However, the samples still need to undergo further studies and confirmations. With this in mind, researchers will further analyze the soil by CheMin, seeking to reinforce the SAM data.
These salts, such as oxalates and acetates can be organic waste and can also serve as an energy source for various microorganisms. This therefore supports the habitability of the red planet.
Organic waste may or may not indicate life
Despite the name, organic waste is not necessarily formed by living organisms. Many of these and other organic compounds can be present on stars and even in certain places on Earth just by geological activity. The Curiosity probe itself, in fact, has previously found other indications of organic molecules on the planet's sandy surface.
Still, the presence of organic molecules is a strong indication of a possible ancient life form on Mars. That's because these salts, usually carbon-rich, may be the leftover organic molecules that microorganisms produced with their metabolism.
For now, however, Curiosity's discovery is only scant evidence; more in-depth studies must be conducted on the organic remnants, and the rover is expected to reach terrain more favorable for collecting material in the coming days, favoring new data.
The article is available in the journal Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets