NASA’s roaming robot finds new signs of ancient life on Mars

JAKARTA — In nearly a decade, NASA’s Curiosity rover has finally found signs of life on Mars, revealing the presence of carbon on the planet.

With the carbon footprint this determines as well as the possibility of ancient life on the Red Planet and Mars could be a habitable planet.

Carbon is the basic symbol for all life on earth and the carbon cycle is the natural process of recycling carbon atoms. On Earth, carbon atoms undergo cycles as they travel from the atmosphere to the ground and back to the atmosphere.

Most of the Earth’s carbon is found in rocks and sediments, with the rest in the oceans, atmosphere and global organisms. Therefore, the carbon atom with its recycling cycle is a tracer for biological activity on earth.

So the carbon on Mars could be used to help researchers determine if life existed on ancient Mars. Learning more about the origins of this newly discovered Martian carbon could also reveal carbon cycle processes on Mars.

“We’re finding things on Mars that are very interesting, but we really need more evidence to say we’ve identified life. So let’s figure out what else could be causing the carbon signature we’re seeing, if not life. Laboratory for Chemical Analysis of Samples on Mars (SAM) Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy.

Launch of the NASA website on Tuesday, January 18, in a report of their findings published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesthe Curiosity scientists described some of the unusual carbon signals they discovered.

Their hypothesis relies in part on the carbon signature on Earth, but scientists caution that the two planets, Mars and Earth, are so different that they cannot draw definitive conclusions based on examples on Earth.

Scientists use instruments to analyze the carbon on the surface of Mars Tunable laser spectrometer (TLS) in the SAM lab. The SAM heated 24 samples from geologically diverse locations in Mars’ Gale Crater to about 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, or 850 degrees Celsius, to release the gases they contained.

Then TLS measures the isotopes of some of the reduced carbon that is released in the heating process. Isotopes are atoms of an element with different masses due to different numbers of neutrons, and they play a role in understanding chemical evolution as well as the biology of the planet.

Inquisitive scientists found that almost half of their sample contained a very large amount of carbon 12 compared to what had been measured in the Martian atmosphere and in meteorites. These samples came from five different locations in Gale Crater.

“On Earth, the process that produces the carbon signal we detect on Mars is a biological process. We need to understand if the same explanation applies to Mars or if there is another explanation because Mars is very different,” said Curiosity scientist Christoph Haus.

House added that Mars is quite unique in that it may have started 4.5 billion years ago with a different mix of carbon isotopes than Earth. Mars is smaller, cooler, has a weaker gravity, and has different gases in its atmosphere. Additionally, carbon can walk on Mars without involving life.

Currently, scientists are in the early stages of understanding the carbon cycles on Mars and interpreting isotopic ratios and the non-biological activity that can cause these ratios.

Curiosity, which arrived on the red planet in 2012, is the first rover with a tool to study carbon isotopes on the surface. Other missions have gathered information about isotopic signatures in the atmosphere, and scientists have measured the ratio of Martian meteorites to those that have accumulated on Earth.

Defining the carbon cycle on Mars is absolutely crucial to understanding how life fits into this cycle. Meanwhile, Curiosity scientists will continue to measure carbon isotopes to see if they get the same signature as the rover visits other sites thought to have well-preserved ancient surfaces.


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