Curiosity Rover Finds Nitrogen, Vital for Life, on Mars
Ashley Allen / 3 years ago
Analysis of samples from the SAM instrument suite on NASA’s Curiosity rover – the vehicle currently trundling its way across the surface of Mars – has found nitrogen within Martian sediments. The nitrogen was found in the form of nitrous oxide and may have been released through heat-induced nitrate breakdown.
Nitrogen is key to all known forms of biological life since it is a major component of DNA and RNA, the genetic base code of life, and proteins, which regulate chemical reactions and cell growth.
Dr. Jennifer Stern, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, said, “Finding a biochemically accessible form of nitrogen is more support for the ancient Martian environment at Gale Crater being habitable.”
The samples analysed came from three different sites on the surface of Mars, meaning that nitrogen deposits were not confined to certain area. The sites were a deviation from the primary mission to explore a 3-mile mound named Mt. Sharp, and the detour was considered a risk, though one that has paid off.
“The rock samples were cooked in SAM’s oven and the resulting gases were analyzed. The researchers found a significant amount of nitric oxide, a compound that, before it was cooked, probably came from nitrates,” according to the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The nitrate levels found on Mars by the Curiosity rover’s SAM instruments were comparable to arid areas on Earth, such as the Atacama Desert in South America.