Monday, August 15

The life of Mars could be in its depths | Digital Trends Spanish

A team of NASA scientists has suggested that the rovers of Mars they may have to dig deeper than previously thought to give them the best chance of finding evidence of ancient microbial life on the distant planet.

Recent research carried out by the team found that the sun’s cosmic rays degrade small molecules such as amino acids, the building blocks of life, at a much faster rate than expected. The existence of certain amino acids is key in scientists’ quest to prove that microbial life once existed on Mars.

“Our results suggest that amino acids are destroyed by cosmic rays in Martian surface rocks and regolith at much faster rates than previously thought.” said Alexander Pavlov of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Current Mars rover missions go deep by about 2 inches (about 5 centimeters). At those depths, it would take only 20 million years to destroy the amino acids completely.”

Since scientists have been searching for evidence of life on Mars going back billions of years, when the planet was most like Earth, the material collected from these shallow depths may not be as useful as once thought. Earth’s thick atmosphere and global magnetic field protect the planet from most cosmic rays, but Mars lost this protection billions of years ago. During the time when it had a thicker atmosphere, the Red Planet contained liquid water. “Since liquid water is essential for life, scientists want to find out if life arose on Mars and look for evidence of ancient Martian life by examining Mars rocks for organic molecules such as amino acids,” NASA said.

The scientists’ findings suggest that Martian rock samples will have to be mined from a depth of about 6.6 feet (2 meters), where any such evidence must remain untouched.

As NASA’s Perseverance rover can only drill a few inches, the development could prompt the team behind the current Mars mission to adopt a new strategy for the rover, which has been collecting rock samples on the Red Planet for the past few years. 10 months.

One solution suggested by scientists is to extract samples from exposed outcrops, such as microcraters that are less than 10 million years old, or from material ejected by impacts involving these craters.

The space agency also notes that while the amino acids have not yet been found on Mars, they have been located inside meteorites, including one from the Red Planet. “We identified several straight-chain amino acids in the Antarctic Martian meteorite RBT 04262 at Goddard’s Analytical Astrobiology Laboratory that we believe originated on Mars (not contamination from terrestrial biology), although the mechanism of formation of these amino acids in RBT 04262 it remains unclear,” said NASA Goddard’s Danny Glavin, who was also involved in the recent research. “Since meteorites from Mars are typically ejected from depths of at least 3.3 feet (one meter) or more, it is possible that the amino acids in RBT 04262 were shielded from cosmic radiation.”

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which oversees the current mission to Mars, has not yet responded to the findings. Perseverance has already collected a number of samples for later return to Earth so scientists can analyze the material in state-of-the-art laboratories. However, the team can now redirect the rover to the types of locations cited in the scientists’ research.

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