The Riddle of How Organic Materials Made It to Mars Has Finally Been Solved

Wednesday, 14 March 2018 - 10:59AM
Space
Alien Life
Wednesday, 14 March 2018 - 10:59AM
The Riddle of How Organic Materials Made It to Mars Has Finally Been Solved
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Image credit: YouTube
Back in 2015, the Curiosity rover spotted some anomalous material on the surface of Mars.

Somehow, against all odds, the rover had detected organic material. This seemed out of place, as thus far, no signs of organic compounds had been found, and as such, scientists began to theorize where they could have come from.

It's important to note that in this instance, the word "organic" doesn't mean "alive." An organic compound is simply a compound that contains carbon atoms, but they've become synonymous with living creatures because all life on Earth is organic—that is to say, carbon-based.

Scientists believe that organic material is among the so-called "building blocks of life" that were part of the primordial soup from which the first life forms sprang, and these compounds very rarely occur naturally without the presence of living creatures. Thus, finding organic material on Mars appeared to suggest that either living creatures had been there at one point, or could develop if the conditions were correct.

It's been theorized that this organic matter arrived on Mars as part of cosmic dust storms that rain down on the planet - the phenomenon is not uncommon, as all planets in the solar system get dusted regularly with celestial debris.



An international team of scientists has found an alternative theory. According to a paper published in Icarus, much of the organic dust that's settled on Mars has actually arrived there by way of asteroid.

According to computer simulations, while the majority of organic matter does appear to come from space dust, approximately 33% of this material instead comes from asteroids and comets, totaling around 63 tonnes of carbon every year.

For anyone who's been paying attention to the ongoing debate surrounding the origin of life on Earth, the idea of organic matter arriving at Mars by way of an asteroid is fascinating. Scientists suspect that life on our own planet began in a similar collision, so if Mars is getting organic matter from asteroids, it could both help to prove this origin story for life on Earth, as well as giving us a good idea of where we might find early life forms in the Martian soil.

The possibility of life forming in one of these craters isn't too far-fetched, although in fairness, conditions on Mars aren't exactly fertile enough to allow new creatures to develop with ease.

Even if Mars doesn't feature any alien creatures, this may help us to identify other places in the galaxy where life might be able to form. According to Kateryna Frantseva, a PhD student at the University of Groningen, which was involved with this study:

Opening quote
"Near other stars, there are also exo-asteroids and exocomets that can shower the surfaces of exoplanets with carbon. If, on top of that, there is water, then you have the required ingredients for life."
Closing quote


If everything in this simulation proves to be accurate (granted, that's a very big "if"), there's a good chance we're on our way to figuring out how life begins on a planet.

Either way, there's a case to be made for Curiosity and other rovers to hunt for organic matter in crater sites across the planet's surface—if we're lucky, we might find some proof that asteroids really do provide planets with organic matter. If we're exceptionally lucky, who knows?

We may now know exactly where to look to find our baby Martian cousins.
Near other stars, there are also exo-asteroids and exocomets that can shower the surfaces of exoplanets with carbon. If, on top of that, there is water, then you have the required ingredients for life.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-03-asteroids-comets-shower-mars.html#jCp
Science
Mars
Space
Alien Life
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