A new study published estimates the presence of organic carbon in Martian rocks.
For the first time, scientists using data from NASA’s Curiosity rover measured the total amount of organic carbon – a key component of life molecules – in the Martian rocks.
“The amount of living carbon is one of the few measurements [or indicators] that help us understand how much is available as a feedstock for prebiotic chemicals and biological potential,” said Jennifer Stern of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We have acquired at least 200 to 273 percent of the million organic carbon. This is even comparable to the amount of rock found on Earth’s lowest ebb, as well as part of the Atacama Desert in South America, and even more so than the specimens of Mars’ surface.”
Organic carbon is the carbon that binds a hydrogen atom. It is the basis for living cells, which are made up of and used by all known species. However, because living carbon can also come from inanimate sources, its existence on Mars does not prove the existence of life there. For example, it could have appeared in meteorites, volcanoes or formed in the area by local reactions. Living carbon has been found on Mars before. Still, previous estimates produced information about only certain compounds or independent assessments that take up only half of the carbon in the rocks. The new scale provides the total amount of organic carbon in these rocks.
Although the surface of Mars is still lifeless, there is evidence that thousands of years ago, the climate was similar to Earth, with thicker air and liquid waters flowing in rivers and seas. Since water is a liquid that is essential to life in the way we understand it, scientists think that Martian life, if it did, could be based on vital ingredients such as organic carbon if it were available in sufficient quantities.
Curiosity is developing in the field of astronomy by researching the location of Mars and by studying its climate and climate. The rover dug samples from 3.5 billion mudstone rocks at the Gale Crater “Yellowknife Bay” site, the site of an ancient lake on Mars. The Mudstone at Gale Crater was built as fine soil (from the weather and chemicals on volcanic rocks) in the water that sat in the lake and was buried. Organic carbon was part of the substance and was incorporated into the mudstone. In addition to liquid water and organic carbon, Gale Crater had other life-sustaining properties, such as chemical energy, low acidity, and other critical biological elements, such as oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur. “This place could provide a living environment, if it ever existed,” said Stern, lead author of the paper on the study published June 27 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.