Life on Mars? ‘Diverse organic matter’ found on Mars may be ‘result of life on the planet’, experts say

13 July 2023, 14:07

Scientists may have found organic matter of 'biotic' origin on the red planet.
Scientists may have found organic matter of 'biotic' origin on the red planet. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

A NASA rover has discovered a diverse range of organic molecules on Mars that may originate from living organisms.

The Perseverance rover, which is on the Jezero Crater on Mars, has detected “diverse organic matter” on the planet, scientists have revealed.

While the exact origin of the matter is unknown, researches have said they cannot rule out it may have a “biotic” origin or be the result of life on Mars.

The discovery may have a huge influence on the search for alien life as the findings suggest Mars has a more active history than originally thought.

Understanding the organic matter on the red planet is key in the search for potential signs of life, as it helps determine the carbon sources that may be available.

Perseverance landed on the Jezero crater in February 2021, which is believed to be an ancient lake basin with a high potential for previous habitability.

The rover has the first tool capable of fine-scale mapping and analysing organic molecules and minerals on Mars, the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (Sherloc).

Scientists have been using it to explore the geological make-up of the crater floor since it landed, as it can take pictures and analyse the rocks it finds.

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The rover is able to take pictures and analyse matter it finds.
The rover is able to take pictures and analyse matter it finds. Picture: Alamy

Researchers analysed observations from two formations on the Jezero crater floor, and indications of organic matter were found on all the targets. They were concentrated in the Maaz formation more than the Seitah formation.

If the matter is not biological in origin, it could still offer important hints as to whether Mars was once able to host alien life, experts said.

"Not all organics are biological in origin. Observing spatial relationships between minerals and organics is necessary when evaluating organic origins and potential biosignatures.

Everything we know of life on Earth is limited to what is preserved in the rock-mineral record. On Earth, biosignatures are found in certain minerals and some minerals are better at preserving organics than others,” said Ashley E Murphy, a researcher at the Planetary Science Institute and co-author on the new paper.

“Mars may have had a similar early geologic history to Earth so we use our knowledge of life as we know it on Earth for where to look for potential evidence of past life on Mars. Mapping organics allows for a better understanding of if the Martian carbon cycle is similar to or different from Earth, and the potential of Mars to host life.”

Scientists have suggested the organic matter could have been made in different ways due to its diverse nature, such as: deposition by water or in combination with volcanic materials.

The discoveries were published in the article ‘Diverse organic-mineral associations in Jezero crater, Mars’ in Nature.

Authors of the piece said: “Our findings suggest there may be a diversity of aromatic molecules prevalent on the Martian surface, and these materials persist despite exposure to surface conditions.

“These potential organic molecules are largely found within minerals linked to aqueous processes, indicating that these processes may have had a key role in organic synthesis, transport or preservation.”

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