Surprising discovery of the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars

  • The Mars rover collected samples between August 2012 and July 2021. The carbon isotopes in it can tell scientists how the carbon cycle at a particular location has changed over time.
  • We find interesting things on Mars. But to conclude that we identified a life, we need more evidence, says Paul Mahaffy
  • Scientists explain the results of the research in several ways. One hypothesis refers to the processes accompanying life on Earth
  • More similar information can be found on Onet homepage

The reference to biological processes is one of three possible hypotheses that experts point to to explain the production of the observed carbon isotopes. The rover found it in the sediments of Gale crater, in samples taken from craters in the rocks of Mars.

The research results are presented in an article in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The research team was led by Christopher H. House of Penn State University.

However, scientists are tempering the sensational speculation. “We found interesting things on Mars. But more evidence is needed to conclude that we have identified life,” says Paul Mahaffy, who was the scientific director of the robotic laboratory aboard the Curiosity rover that examined the samples.

Curiosity rover on Mars. new discovery

Samples were collected between August 2012 and July 2021. A total of 24 samples were tested and Curiosity was heated to separate individual chemicals. As a result, it was possible to determine the differences in terms of the mixture of C12 and C13 carbon isotopes.

The presence of these two stable carbon isotopes can tell scientists how the carbon cycle at a particular location has changed over time.

It turns out that some samples contain a lot of C13 carbon isotopes, while others do not. The researchers note that such differentiation is not a criterion for the processes that influence the carbon cycle on Earth today.

Scientists show that at the beginning of the formation of the solar system there were some amounts of carbon C12 and carbon C13. Since C12 reacts faster than C13 – then by checking the relative amounts of both isotopes, one can examine the carbon cycle in the environment.

More info under the video

Amazing discovery on Mars. Scientists’ hypotheses

The researchers say the results obtained from Mars can be explained in several ways.

One explanation relates to a large molecular cloud in space, rich in carbon of the kind discovered by Curiosity research. The Solar System passes through these clouds every few hundred million years, about 1 percent. The content of this cloud is dust. The passage of a certain celestial body through the cloud may leave unusual carbon deposits (for example, based on previous studies of the Allende meteorite, it was determined that the C13 carbon content in interstellar dust may be very low). Scientists believe this is the most likely scenario.

A second scenario could be the conversion of carbon dioxide into organic components (eg to formaldehyde) through non-biological processes. In such a situation, the influence of ultraviolet rays may be involved, which can lead to such processes.

The third option is inspired by the processes accompanying life on Earth. Scientists speculate that there may have been bacteria on Mars once that produced methane and released it into the atmosphere. Already in the atmosphere of the planet, due to the influence of ultraviolet radiation, this gas can be converted into larger and more complex particles, which then fall to the surface, the effects of which can be seen in the unusual signals of carbon in the rocks of Mars. In this scenario, the samples Curiosity studied would therefore contain carbon from a life form – long ago.

Interestingly, the very low C13 samples are somewhat similar to those from Australia, with sediments that are 2.7 billion years old. In the case of Australia, its existence is associated with ancient biological activity (when the microorganisms that lived there at that time consumed methane). However, such an explanation cannot be easily transferred to a new discovery from Mars, because this planet could have formed from slightly different material and in slightly different processes from Earth.

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