Rock Samples From NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover Contain Key Ingredient of Life

Rock Samples From NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover Contain Key Ingredient of Life
Martian rock samples collected by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover show signs of key ingredients for life as we know it on Earth. Space.com reports: The venerable Curiosity Rover drilled samples from Gale crater, the site of an ancient lake on Mars. Using these samples, scientists were able, for the first time, to measure the total amount of organic carbon in Martian rocks, according to a statement from NASA. Organic carbon, which is carbon bound to a hydrogen atom, is a prerequisite for organic molecules created and used by all known forms of life. However, organic carbon can also come from non-living sources, such as meteorites and volcanic eruptions. While previous studies have detected organic carbon in smaller quantities in Martian rock samples, the new measurements provide insight into the total amount of carbon in organic compounds.

“Total organic carbon is one of several measurements [or indices] that help us understand how much material is available as feedstock for prebiotic chemistry and potentially biology,” Jennifer Stern, lead author of the study and a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in the statement. “We found at least 200 to 273 parts per million of organic carbon. This is comparable to or even more than the amount found in rocks in very low-life places on Earth, such as parts of the Atacama Desert in South America, and more than has been detected in Mars meteorites.”

[…] However, in addition to organic carbon, the researchers identified other signs suggesting Gale crater may have once supported life, including the presence of chemical energy sources, and chemical compounds such as oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur and low acidity. “Basically, this location would have offered a habitable environment for life, if it ever was present,” Stern said in the statement. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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