We have detected “organic carbon molecules” on Mars. That’s what you really mean

This week we received the news that rover Perseverance has found reliable indications of organic matter on Mars. An important finding but one that leaves many questions: What are its real implications? Is this the first time we’ve discovered these compounds? Is it getting us closer to discovering life on Mars?

Organic materials. One of the teams you work with rover Perseverance, which NASA sent to Mars nearly three years ago, Recently announced The discovery of different organic molecules in the analyzes conducted by the rover on the terrain of Mars. They are carbon compounds (a major component of this type of compound) mixed with elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.

Although organic compounds are the key to life, their appearance may be due to abiotic conditions. In the sense that the origin of these molecules can be explained without the need for life on Mars.

Mandatory caution. “[Somos] Be careful when making assertions – the assertion that life is the origin of organic or potential indicators is a hypothesis of last resort, which means that we will have to rule out any non-biological origin”. Sunanda Sharma explainedco-author of the study, to the medium Space.com. The reverse could lead us to a situation similar to the one that occurred a few years ago with the notorious Venus phosphine.

These alternative explanations may simply include geological processes, such as the water cycle or volcanic activity, or the possibility that they arrived on a meteorite. Organic matter is a state without which we cannot conceive of life, but we can conceive of organic matter without resorting to the past existence of life.

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Another step too. This is not the first time that organic compounds have been discovered on Mars, but it is an important step. So far organic compounds have been discovered in two cases. The first was the Martian rocks that came to Earth in the form of a meteorite. The second, in Gale Crater, the area he explored”rover Brother “perseverance, curiosity.

I found perseverance many organic molecules And he did so in the 10 times he conducted his geochemical analysis. However, the intensity of these was found to vary across the different sites analyzed over these years.

This means that aggregated data can help us with this Know where to look If we want to be serious about looking for evidence of life on the neighboring planet.

Sherlock. In their analysis, the researchers used the data collected by the tool Sherlock (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals). This tool is designed to be able to map terrain on a small scale.

More importantly, this tool is able to perform an analysis of organic molecules based on the way they reflect UV rays. Each particle reflects light at specific frequencies, thanks to which the instrument is able to recognize this diversity. Analysis details It was published in the journal nature.

Jezero Crater. Of course, NASA did not choose fate rover random. The place Perseverance is exploring is Jezero Crater, a crater where we know water was plentiful and relatively recent. This is why the site is the perfect place for a NASA rover to search for signs of life, presumed extinct, on Mars.

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Process: Bring samples. The news made the future arrival of Martian soil samples on Earth even more predictable. Right now, two missions are vying to be the first to achieve this feat, and both hope to bring back samples by 2030.

The first will meticulously collect the samples you have collected rover Perseverance throughout these three years and is being developed jointly by the US and European Space Agencies (ESA). The second is a Chinese initiative, which will not only make a round trip, but also collect Mars samples.

It’s not clear which of these missions will be the first to return samples from Mars, or if any of them will do so at all. These collections of samples are an important step before embarking on the more ambitious goal of bringing humans to the Red Planet.

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Image | NASA/JPL-Caltech

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