Intriguing new signatures of organic molecules found on Mars: what's known

Dmytro IvancheskulLife
Mars rover Perseverance has helped scientists find organics on the red planet. Source: Jenny Winder/NASA/collage OBOZREVATEL

Organic matter may be abundant on Mars. Materials found in the rocks of the Martian crater Jezero are proof of that.

This is stated in a study published in the Nature journal. As scientists explained, spectroscopic analysis conducted by the Mars rover Perseverance, revealed signs of hydrocarbon molecules in different rocks. Moreover, the molecules differed in quantity and type from rock to rock.

"We detected signals consistent with aromatic organic molecules in several rocks at the bottom of the Jezero crater," Sunanda Sharma, an astrobiologist at the California Institute of Technology who led the study, told ScienceAlert.

Previously, the Curiosity rover also found organic molecules in Gale Crater, but recent discovery could indicate that the building blocks for life are widespread across Mars.

"We see at least four different types of fluorescence signals and three types of Raman signals that are probably organic. This was unexpected and interesting because such differences could mean that the cells had different histories of change," the scientists said.

Finding signs of life is one of Perseverance's main goals. Carbon itself is not direct evidence that there was life on Mars, but it is a prerequisite. Thus, as the scientists explain, if you want to assess the suitability for life, carbon-containing molecules are one of the key things to look for.

Scientists also note that the ability of rocks to preserve these molecules is also important, as it could indicate that life may have arisen or been sustained there at some point in Mars' history.

With Perseverance's SHERLOC instrument, Sharma and her colleagues not only found the signals they were looking for but also discovered key differences in the chemical composition of these rocks from the Maaz and Seita formations.

"Maaz and Seita did not look the same in terms of the number, type and mineral associations of possible organic signals. Now I'm wondering what happened to them to give such differences; how does this fit into our story about Jezero Crater?" the scientist asked.

Perseverance is continuing its work and intends to obtain rock samples from new locations. This could help researchers compile a more detailed geologic history of Mars and the organic molecules on it.

Scientists hope that the wide distribution of organic materials will mean that they will also be present in the samples that Perseverance will return to Earth, where they can be directly studied.

Earlier OBOZREVATEL also told about the theory of a scientist who suggests that mankind has already found life on Mars, but could have accidentally killed it.

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