We’ve known since Curiosity’s expedition to Mars that the planet is home to complex organic molecules. Over the past few years, analysis provided by NASA’s most recent rover have enabled us to confirm this.
What’s special about the presence of these carbon-based compounds is that they’re considered a prerequisite for life — a promising sign for scientists.
But Curiosity, which landed on Mars in 2013, isn’t actually the first device to have discovered organic matter on Mars.
During the 1970s, the Viking mission took place and apparently found no evidence of any such matter — however, according to a New Scientist report, NASA may have unwittingly burnt traces of organic molecules from Mars.
A team of NASA scientists around Christopher McKay now believe they know how to clear the whole situation up: according to researchers, at least one Viking unit that landed did, in fact, detect organic material — but the remote-controlled machine inadvertently burned the valuable find during data analysis.
NASA burnt organic material from Mars (by accident)
This hypothesis is plausible due to the presence of a substance scientists discovered ten years ago on Mars: in 2008, NASA’s Phoenix Lander found a toxic, salty compound present on Mars called perchlorate. On Earth, as this compound is highly flammable so it’s used, among other things, in fireworks. On Mars, on the other hand, it’s cool so little opportunity should arise for it to burn.
However, the Viking Lander heated samples from Martian soil to 500 degrees. With perchlorate in the mixture, sensitive organic molecules would probably have been destroyed immediately when heated, the researchers have suggested.
Looking at the new data from Curiosity, McKay and his colleagues believe the ideas that were put forward about the controversial issue since Phoenix’s data came to light are much more likely. In 2013, Curiosity detected not only organic substances but chlorobenzene molecules, produced when carbon reacts with perchlorate.
Source: Business Insider