Science

Martian meteorite with vast array of organic compounds might hold clues to life on Mars

A study of the Martian meteorite ‘Tissint’ which crashed landed in Morocco over a decade ago found that it consists of a vast array of organic compounds which could reveal new details about the Red Planet’s habitability and even important clues about Earth’s geological history. Published in the journal Science Advances by an international team of researchers led by the Technical University of Munich in Germany. It also included Helmholtz Munich’s Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin and Carnegie Institution for Science in the United States’ Andrew Steele.

In a statement, the lead author of the study, Schmitt-Kopplin, said, “Mars and Earth share many aspects of their evolution. And while life arose and thrived on our home planet, the question of whether it ever existed on Mars is a very hot research topic that requires deeper knowledge of our neighboring planet’s water, organic molecules, and reactive surfaces.”

After analyzing the meteorite’s organic inventory in detail the researchers found a link between the type and diversity of organic molecules as well as specific mineralogy. This helped them create the most comprehensive catalog of the diversity of organic compounds found in a Martian meteorite or in a sample collected and analyzed by a rover.

The meteorite, Tissint, is one of the five Martian rocks that was observed as it fell to the Earth, over 11 years ago its pieces were scattered in a Moroccan desert about 30 miles from the town after which it was named. It is speculated that the hundred million year old rock was launched into space following a violent event.

Notably, organic compounds are large molecules that contain predominantly carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sulphur, and are associated with life and biological processes. However, these compounds can be created by non-biological processes which previous Martian meteorite research demonstrated which scientists call, abiotic organic chemistry.

The findings of the study detailed the process occurring beneath the Red Planet’s mantle and crust and how they have changed over time, especially with regard to abiotic organics that formed from Mars’ water-rock interactions.

According to Steele who was also a member of both the Perseverance and Curiosity rovers’ teams, “understanding the processes and sequence of events that shaped this rich organic bounty will reveal new details about Mars’ habitability and potentially about the reactions that could lead to the formation of life.”

Additionally, one of the most intriguing findings of the study was the abundance of organic magnesium compounds which was previously not seen on Mars and offered insights into the planet’s high-pressure and high-temperature geochemistry that shaped its deep interior as well as a connection between its carbon cycle and mineral evolution.

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