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Martian chemical complicates hunt for life’s clues

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Posted September 27, 2013
The quest for evidence of life on Mars could be more difficult than scientists previously thought. A scientific paper published details the investigation of a chemical in the Martian soil that interferes with the techniques used by the Curiosity rover to test for traces of life. The chemical causes the evidence to burn away during the tests.
Martian chemical complicates hunt for life's clues
The Curiosity Rover took this composite self-portrait in the Rocknest sand patch on Mars. Tests of soil at the site suggest that troublesome chemicals called perchlorates are common on the Red Planet. Credit: NASA
 

In search of clues to life’s presence on Mars – now or in the past – Curiosity checks Martian soil and rocks for molecules known as organic carbon compounds that are the hallmark of living organisms on Earth.

While trekking around the Rocknest sand dune in November 2012, the rover found evidence of perchlorate—a salt comprised of chlorine and oxygen. When Curiosity heats a scoop of Martian soil to test it for organic carbon, perchlorates can cause a chemical reaction that destroys organic carbon. Daniel Glavin, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and first author on the new paper, said he now believes the troublesome perchlorates are likely prevalent throughout the Martian surface.

“The presence of perchlorates isn’t good news for some of the techniques we’re currently using with Curiosity,” said Glavin. “This may change the way we search for organics in the future on Mars.”

 

Read more at: Phys.org

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