Mars, Curiosity may have found traces of life – RB

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Mars, Curiosity may have found traces of life – RB

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Mars, Curiosity may have found traces of life – RB


The NASA rover has found a carbon isotope, and scientists are wondering where it came from: there could be traces of life on Mars, according to Curiosity

21 January 2022

David Bowie sang it, it’s the subject of dozens of films and as many novels, and scientists have been thinking about it for years. But life on Mars is different in the eyes of pop culture and astrophysicists.

The life on Mars that scientists are looking for is the basic one, also because the conditions of life on the Red Planet are prohibitive. But every little clue can be fundamental: that’s why the possible trace of life found is so important by Curiosity , one of the rovers that plow the surface of Mars.

The discovery of Curiosity

The small rover of NASA , which brought scientists on Earth many other important discoveries, may have found the first traces of life on Mars. In particular, he found a isotope of carbon which on Earth is very abundant and above all is associated with biological processes : it is the basis organic molecules and life as we know it.

The discovery is recent, but the material collected by Curiosity dates back to some time ago: in August of 2012 the rover in fact had taken 24 rock samples from five different points of the crater of Gale . He had analyzed them in the small laboratory which he installed on board, heating them up to 850 ° to facilitate the release of methane gas. At that point the gas was analyzed with a special spectrometer which the little gem of NASA installed on board. Then, the great discovery: carbon 12 in quite large quantities , compared to that found in the atmosphere of Mars and its meteorites.

Curiosity then sent the results home to Earth. There they were analyzed by a team of scientists from NASA’s Goddard Center and Penn State University. The results of the study were published in the scientific journal of the American Academy of Sciences.

The conclusions of the scientists

Scientists who worked on the data sent by Curiosity wondered about the possible origins of carbon 12 found on the surface of the Red Planet.

The first conclusion they arrived at is that carbon derives from very ancient bacteria present on the surface of Mars: forms of life they have released methane particles (which is formed by a carbon atom and 4 hydrogen atoms) in the atmosphere, where ultraviolet light would have made them larger and more complex, causing them to fall on the planet. At that point they would settle on rocks and dust.

The second theory says that carbon 12 could be derived from interaction between ultraviolet light and carbon dioxide , both present in the atmosphere of Mars. The molecules born from this interaction would then, as in the previous case, precipitate on the surface of the planet.

As third and final conclusion – and this, we admit, is the most fascinating – scientists speculate that carbon 12 could come from a gigantic interstellar cloud rich in this element, which the Solar System would have passed through in its very first years of life. A very rare event, which makes it even more fascinating.

These are all three theories, which in order to be verified need further data that scientists do not have for the moment. In short, Curiosity and his colleague Perseverance will still have work to do.

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