The discovery of ammonia and benzoic acid was made with an innovative technique: new organic molecules on Mars were discovered by NASA
Curiosity strikes again: the Nasa rover that has been circling Mars undisturbed since 2011 has found new organic molecules on the surface of the red planet. Does this mean there are traces of life? Let's find out.
What has discovered Curiosity
The rover has found organic molecules that so far were unknown on Mars: ammonia and benzoic acid. The latter in particular on Earth is found in many plants and berries, but for the first time has also been found on the red planet.
Curiosity has not found, however, amino acids, a kind of "bricks" on which life is based. This discovery does not prove that life existed on Mars, because organic molecules can be formed by other processes. Life, as well as water, still remain a mirage on the red planet.
But Curiosity has discovered that it is possible to trace carbon-based molecules with an innovative technique.
How the discovery of organic molecules came about
Usually Curiosity used the electric drill to dig into the surface of Mars and extract elements and molecules from the innermost part. However, the drill stopped working in 2016: but NASA scientists did not stop in front of this obstacle, and decided to move differently. So Curiosity began collecting sand, specifically from the Bagnold Dunes.
Guided by scientists on Earth, the rover put some of that sand into the chemical lab it had on board, built into its structure. It had only nine tubes of sealing solvent at its disposal, so it could only analyze nine samples. He couldn't afford mistakes, therefore, on such a valuable commodity.
He didn't expect to find anything interesting, because it's an area that has been exposed to cosmic elements, particularly ionizing radiation, for millennia. Instead, the interesting discovery.
The Future of Discovery
This discovery and the new technique used lay the groundwork for Curiosity's future work on samples found on the ground, particularly when wet chemistry experiments begin after the Rover's visit to Gale Crater.
And certainly this will also help the new Perseverance rover, which just discovered what looks like a lake, and the European Space Agency and Russian Roscosmos rovers, which will soon arrive on the red planet.