Organic material from Mars reveals the likely origin of life’s building blocks | Science & Technology

Two samples from Mars together deliver the “smoking gun” in a new study showing the origin of Martian organic material. The study presents solid evidence for a prediction made over a decade ago by University of Copenhagen researchers that could be key to understanding how organic molecules, the foundation of life, were first formed here on Earth.

In a meteor crater on the red planet, a solitary robot is moving about. Right now it is probably collecting soil samples with a drill and a robotic arm, as it has quite a habit of doing. NASA’s Curiosity rover has been active on Mars as the extended arm of science for nearly 12 years, and it continues to make discoveries that surprise and challenge scientists’ understanding of both Mars and our own world here on Earth.

Most recently, the discovery of sedimentary organic material with particular properties has had many researchers scratching their heads. The properties of these carbon-based materials, in particular the ratio of its carbon isotopes, surprised researchers.

Organic materials with such properties, if found on Earth, would typically be a sign of microorganisms, but they can also be the result of non-biological, chemical processes. The find obviously had researchers scrambling for a clear answer, but nothing seemed to fit.

However, for the research collaboration behind a new study published in Nature Geoscience, there has been little hair scratching and much enthusiasm.

In fact, the discovery on Mars provided the missing piece that made everything fall into place for this group of researchers from the University of Copenhagen and the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

As co-author and chemistry professor Matthew Johnson puts it, it is “the smoking gun” needed to confirm a decade old theory of his about so-called photolysis in Mars’ atmosphere.

With the Curiosity sample, the new research is able to prove with reasonable certainty that the Sun broke down CO2 in the Martian atmosphere billions of years ago — as…


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