- Team of NASA scientists discovered traces of organic salts on the Martian surface
- The discovery is helpful in studying pre-existing microbial life on the Red planet
- Organic salts could have formed by geological processes or are remnants of ancient microbial life
Possibility of Habitat
For years, scientists and researchers have been digging up the Martian soil to obtain traces that could possibly hint towards the possibility of life on the planet. The recent discovery of glacial sheet patterns on the red planet emerged as a silver lining as it could be potentially used as a water reservoir for astronauts. Moreover, the discovery of glacial sheets like patterns indicated towards the possibility of life on the planet.
Towards the end week of May 2021, NASA scientists spotted traces of organic salts on the Martian surface in quest of microbial life. The discovery holds the potential to redefine people’s perspective towards the life-promoting properties of the Martian surface and search for life on the planet.
Organic Salts on Mars
A team of NASA scientists reported that they have detected organic salts on the Martian surface. This discovery hints towards the early existence of life on the Red planet. According to a statement issued by NASA, the salt particles resemble “shards of ancient pottery.” These salt particles are the chemical remnants of organic compounds which were previously detected by the Mars Curiosity rover.
According to a study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, it was found that organic salts, such as iron, calcium, and magnesium oxalates and acetates, may be widespread in Martian surface sediments. These salts are the chemical remnants of organic compounds, which could have possibly formed by geologic processes or are remnants of ancient microbial life.
Quest for life on Martian surface
Given that the discovery of organic salts on the Martian surface suggest habitability, researcher James M T Lewis, an organic geochemist who led the research, stated, “If organic salts are widespread on the Martian surface, their composition and distribution could offer insight into the less-altered organic record and they may play an important role in near-surface carbon cycling and habitability.”
The organic compounds found on the Martian surface are a result of the bombardment of ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which poses a challenge during the search for organics including organic salts. However in 2018, the Curiosity rover had detected a variety of compounds , all containing carbons, trapped in rocks, and better protected from the hostile surface conditions.
While directly identifying organic salts on Mars is hard to do with instruments like SAM, as it heats Martian soil and rocks to release gases that reveal the composition of these samples, the team proposed another Curiosity instrument — the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, or CheMin for short.
Possibility of habitability
Although the detection of compounds might not be a direct proof of organic salts, they act as a strong hint that organic salts exist on the Red planet. The Curiosity rover is now gradually climbing higher up the lower slopes of Mount Sharp and will continue to search for evidence of the elusive salts. Until now, it has been exploring the former lakebed in Gale Crater which is characterized by ancient clays and sediments.
The discovery of organic compounds cites the possible existence of life or support of habitability on Mars. In 2015, Curiosity detected nitrogen in samples it was analyzing. Nitrogen is one of the building blocks of larger molecules like DNA and RNA that encode genetic instructions and proteins. Along with the carbon organics, whiffs of methane and oxygen and the possible organic salts are all tantalizing clues that might point to ancient or even current life on Mars.
Confirmation for life on the planet will require even bigger research and intricate studies. With the detection of traces of organic salts on Mars, important clues regarding previous habitability and the potential for ancient microbial life can be determined.