More evidence of life’s key building blocks on Mars


July 12, 2023

(Nanowerk News) Evidence for a wide variety of organic molecules has been detected by the Perseverance rover in the Jezero Crater on Mars, according to a paper in Natural (“Diverse mineral-organic associations in the Jezero crater, Mars”). The findings suggest that more complex geochemical cycles than previously thought may have existed in the past.

Hypothesized explanations for the origin of organic matter on Mars include water-rock interactions, or deposition by interplanetary dust or meteors, although biotic origins have not been ruled out. Understanding more about Martian organic matter could shed light on the availability of carbon sources, with implications for the search for potential biosignatures.

The Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) instrument is the first tool to enable the fine-scale mapping and analysis of organic molecular minerals on Mars. SHERLOC was aboard the cruiser Perseverance, which landed in the Jezero Crater, an ancient lake basin site with high potential for habitability in the past.

Sunanda Sharma, Ryan Roppel and colleagues analyzed SHERLOC observations at Máaz and Séítah, two formations on the floor of Jezero Crater. Organic molecular signals were detected at the ten SHERLOC targets observed in the Jezero Crater floor, more concentrated at Máaz than at Séítah, indicating diverse mineral associations and spatial distributions that may be unique to each formation.

The diversity among these observations can provide insight into the different ways organic matter may have originated: potentially through deposition by water, or through synthesis with volcanic materials.

The findings suggest that different organic synthesis and preservation mechanisms may be operating on the Martian surface. The authors suggest that aqueous processes may play a key role for this mechanism.


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