We may have discovered new organic compounds in Martian rocks

(ORDO NEWS) — The Perseverance rover may have just discovered traces of organic compounds in the rocks of the Jezero crater.

Previous studies have found evidence of organic compounds on Mars before. The Curiosity rover and Mars Express orbiter returned evidence of this, as did data from Perseverance.

None of this necessarily implies any kind of biology – after all, various geological phenomena can contribute to the creation of carbon-based chemistry.

But a more detailed study of these compounds can provide more information about the history of water. Mars and whether the Red Planet could at least once take on any living processes.

Derived from two different craters, the minerals contain evidence of water processes that carve out perfect little indentations for the preparation of some sort of organic chemistry. Based on one type of analysis, they may even contain traces of carbon-based compounds.

Jezero Crater was a much wetter place many millennia ago than it is today. Until now, there are traces of the ancient river delta, which once fanned out along the bottom of the crater.

Interactions between water and rock can lead to the formation of organic compounds similar to those already found in the ancient delta.

However, the question of whether there are organic compounds anywhere else at the bottom of the crater remains open.

Scientists expected the rock found there to be largely sedimentary, deposited by water long ago, but when Perseverance arrived, we learned that much of the crater floor was volcanic, not sedimentary.

Using Perseverance’s Scanning Habitable Environments Using the Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) instrument, an international team led by planetary scientist Eva Scheller of the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted a study of igneous rocks at the bottom of the crater.

They used deep ultraviolet Raman and fluorescence spectroscopy of three rocks from two sites in the crater and found signs that significant contact with water had altered the rocks. at different times in the distant past.

First, reactions with liquid water led to the formation of carbonates in olivine-rich igneous rocks about 3.8–2.7 billion years ago.

Later, b between 2.6 and 2.3 billion years ago, saline water rich in salt could cause the formation of sulfate-perchlorate (salt) mixtures in rocks.

Both carbonates and perchlorates require water to penetrate rocks and dissolve. and deposition of minerals in cavities resulting from water erosion. It is unlikely that water will touch the rocks after the deposition of perchlorates because perchlorates dissolve easily.

In all three rock cases, the team found signs of fluorescence consistent with aromatic organic compounds like benzene.

They appear to be preserved in minerals associated with both aquatic environments, the researchers say, but we can’t yet tell what they are.

“Taken together, the data show drilled samples collected by Perseverance of Jezero Crater likely contain evidence of carbonization and the formation of sulfates and perchlorates,” they write in their paper.

“The fluorescence signatures corresponding to the organics present in these materials indicate an interaction between igneous rocks, water changes. , and organic material on Mars.”

Persistence has long since departed from the places where these data collections took place. Luckily, he also collected samples of the rocks themselves in case they were later ferried home to Earth on a mission that has yet to launch.

“My hope is that one day these samples can be returned to Earth so that we can study the evidence for water and possible organic matter and find out whether the conditions were suitable for life in the early history of Mars, ” says geochemist Mark Sefton from Imperial College London in Great Britain.

So it will be some time before we get the confirmation we crave. But shipping these rocks to an Earth lab with equipment capable of studying the compounds in detail could tell us more about the habitability or uninhabitability of Mars in the past.

Meanwhile, Perseverance, continuing his slow exploration of Jezero Crater may reveal more important clues.

We just have to wait and see.

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