With the search for life on Mars intensifying with Perseverance, Curiosity and China’s Zhurong rover searching for signs of ancient bacterial life; new research shows that they will have to work harder and dig deeper. Lab experiments have indicated that the rovers must dig at least 6.6 feet to discover any possible signs.
Scientists believe that radiation from space could have degraded tiny molecules such as amino acids reasonably quickly on the surface. Looking for amino acids on Mars can be assessed as a potential sign of ancient Martian life because amino acids can be created by life and are primarily used by life on Earth to generate proteins.
“Our results suggest that amino acids are destroyed by cosmic rays in the Martian surface rocks and regolith at much faster rates than previously thought. Current Mars rover missions drill down to about two inches. At those depths, it would take only 20 million years to destroy amino acids completely. The addition of perchlorates and water increases the rate of amino acid destruction even further,” Alexander Pavlov, a scientist with Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, announced in a statement.
The result suggests a new search strategy for missions limited to sampling at shallow depths.
Similar to Earth’s thick atmosphere and global magnetic field that protects the surface from most cosmic rays, Mars also had these characteristics but lost this protection as it aged. However, there’s proof that billions of years ago, liquid water existed on the surface of the Red Planet.