US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Scientists look at Mars in a completely new way. This is because a new analysis of the famous part of the red planet revealed something exciting: traces of nitrogen.
According to a new study, nitrogen, along with organic molecules – carbon-rich molecules that are considered the building blocks of life as we know it – were discovered in an Alan Hills meteorite.
A sample of Alan Hills was discovered in Antarctica in 1984 and is one of the largest and most famous meteorites from Mars. This is because it provoked a rather heated debate when it was first found. Some of the earliest breed analysis researchers suggested that the sample contained microbial fossils. This led to rumors that scientists may have found the first signs of Martian life.
For billions of years, Mars is deprived of its atmosphere, and therefore its surface is exposed to cosmic radiation, as well as to constant impacts of interstellar objects. Sometimes the explosions are so strong that pieces of rock are thrown into space and ultimately land on other planetary bodies, such as the moon or earth.
Scientists estimate that the Alan Hills specimen arrived on our planet at least 13,000 years ago, and the specimen itself is about 4 billion years old. This is 1800 grams of stone – the oldest known meteorite from Mars that we found.
Mars, as we know it today, seems like a rather inhospitable place to live. But that was not always the case. Mars was once a lush, wet world, and new evidence points to this fact. So an ancient piece of the red planet can be fraught with traces of organic molecules.
These types of carbon-rich molecules are the building blocks of life. Their presence does not necessarily qualify as a clear sign that life was once on Mars, but this sign indicates the likelihood of this. This is because this particular sample does not just contain a random set of organic molecules; it contains traces of nitrogen clearly.
And nitrogen is what life here on Earth depends on.
A new study by a team of scientists from the Japan Space Agency (JAXA) shows that not only the sample contains nitrogen, but this nitrogen was found in carbonate minerals in the rock. These types of minerals are usually formed in groundwater, so this may be further evidence that Mars was once a wet world.
To make this discovery, a team at JAXA, led by Mizuho Koike, used a technique called X-ray spectroscopy to determine that nitrogen was hidden in carbonate minerals. Despite the fact that the Alan Hills sample was known for a long time, it was the first definitive evidence that there was nitrogen in the meteorite.
This discovery does not mean that researchers found signs of life on Mars. The presence of nitrogen and carbonate minerals can be obtained both biotically and abiotically. Scientists do not yet know how these molecules formed, but they ruled out that they were somehow contaminated with minerals on Earth.
But how were they formed? According to the researchers, there are two possibilities: either organics arose on Mars, or it came from outside the planet. Mars was littered with comets and other particles of meteorites and dust, and it is possible that some of them could be trapped inside the minerals when they formed.
Researchers will soon have other Martian patterns to compare these results. This summer, NASA launches the Perseverance rover – a six-wheeled robot will land on Mars in an area called Jezero Crater. The agency chose this site as a landing site because it is considered an ancient river delta and may contain minerals that are known to store microorganisms here on Earth.
The task of the rover will look for signs of a past life, as well as collect samples that will be sent to Earth in subsequent missions. Once researchers have access to pristine Martian samples, they can expand their knowledge of the red planet. And, perhaps, they can even say whether there has ever been life on Mars.
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