NewsUnexpected discovery on Mars: Nasa rover makes sensational find

Unexpected discovery on Mars: Nasa rover makes sensational find

A NASA experiment on Mars does not find any direct evidence of life, but it could ensure that life will be found elsewhere in the future.

Washington DC – The NASA rover “Curiosity” has been on Mars for nine years, searching for traces of past life, among other things. The rover landed in the “Gale” crater on the red planet in the summer of 2012. Since then, “Curiosity” has been investigating Mars, always on the lookout for organic material or other clues to earlier life or water on the planet.

Now a study is causing a stir, the experiments of which took place on Mars in 2017. At that time, “Curiosity” took soil samples in a region that the US space agency NASA christened “Bagnold Dunes” and examined them with the help of the on-board instruments. The data that “Curiosity” then sent to Earth have been studied by researchers for years – and their findings have now been published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Nasa rover “Curiosity” finds organic material on Mars

For the experiment, “Curiosity” used an instrument called SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars). The instrument inside the rover is a kind of miniature chemistry laboratory that includes a mass spectrometer. SAM also contains 74 “cups” that are used to analyze soil samples from Mars. Most Mars samples are heated by SAM in order to study them afterwards. In nine of these beakers, however, there is a liquid with which the samples can be dissolved in order to better examine their composition. In December 2017, a so-called wet chemistry experiment was carried out on Mars to find out whether this technology also works beyond Earth.

And indeed: after the researchers led by lead author Maëva Millan from Georgetown University in Washington DC had been evaluating the data from the Mars experiment for several years, they came to a good result in their study: no concrete evidence of life on Mars was discovered , but the experiment found evidence of organic molecules in the soil samples that could not have been detected with the other analysis options of the rover. “We have proven that these experiments can work,” Millan told the New Scientist.

NASA experiment on Mars: Rover “Curiosity” confirms new technology

In the future, the NASA rover “Curiosity” could carry out the experiments again in other regions of Mars. Millan explains: “That means we can do the same experiments with other minerals such as clay and sulfates, which can better preserve organic molecules.” The NASA rover “Perseverance” also searches for traces of life on Mars. But he has no way of doing wet chemistry. Instead, he collects soil samples, among other things, which are to be brought back to Earth from a later mission – where the Mars rocks are then to be examined in detail. In addition, “Perseverance” recently made a “key observation” on Mars.

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The wet chemistry technology, which was successfully tested on Mars, will also be used in future missions to the solar system. And the NASA mission “Dragonfly”, which is to explore the Saturn moon Titan in 2036, will have the technology with them. “Now we know that we can get it to work on other planets,” says Millan. (tab)

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