Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Is There Organic Matter on Mars?

13.11.2014

Chloromethane discovered on the “Red Planet” possibly comes from the Martian soil – meteorites probably provided its carbon and hydrogen

Organic matter recently detected by NASA’s robotic rover “Curiosity” is probably not due to contamination brought from Earth as researchers originally thought. A team of German and British scientists led by geoscientist Prof. Dr. Frank Keppler from Heidelberg University now suggests that the gaseous chlorinated organic compound – chloromethane – recently found on the “Red Planet” most likely comes from the soil of Mars, with its carbon and hydrogen probably deriving from meteorites that fell on the planet’s surface.

This assumption is supported by isotope measurements made by the scientists in which they replicated some of the Mars lander experiments. In these investigations, samples from a 4.6 billion old meteorite that fell in Australia in 1969 were used. Results from this study have been published in “Scientific Reports”.

The question of whether there is organic matter on Mars, an essential requirement for life on this planet, has been debated by the scientific community for a long time. To address this issue, the NASA Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in August 2012, has conducted investigations on Martian soil. Upon heating soil samples simple organic molecules were detected and identified by on-board measurement systems.

One of the substances detected was chloromethane, which contains carbon, hydrogen and chlorine atoms. In the opinion of the NASA experts, however, this compound could have been formed during the soil heating experiments by a reaction between perchlorates in Martian soil and an on-board chemical.

Thus, even though the chlorine in the chloromethane comes from Mars, the carbon and hydrogen were considered to have been brought to Mars by the Curiosity rover. Interestingly this kind of organic material had also been identified in earlier experiments during the Viking mission in 1976, but the compound was considered a terrestrial contaminant.

The German-British team of scientists led by Prof. Keppler has investigated whether there could be another explanation for the observations of chloromethane on Mars. They assumed that the gaseous chlorinated organic compound is indeed derived from Martian soil, but that its carbon and hydrogen are provided by meteorites.

To support their hypothesis, the researchers examined samples from a 4.6 billion years old meteorite that fell on earth in 1969 near the Australian city of Murchison. According to Prof. Keppler this meteoritic material contains two per cent carbon. Space experts assume that a relatively large amount of micrometeorites with a similar composition to the one of Murchison fall on the surface of Mars each year.

When Frank Keppler and his colleagues heated the Murchison meteoritic matter in the presence of chlorine they observed chloromethane. “The ratio of heavy to light carbon and hydrogen atoms, known as the isotopic fingerprint of a gas, clearly shows that the organic material has an extraterrestrial origin,” Prof. Keppler says. The scientists transferred their results to Martian surface conditions which receive meteorites of similar composition.

“Hence chloromethane which was found by the two separate Mars missions could be formed by the Martian soil, and the carbon and hydrogen would have their origin in the micrometeorites that rain down on Mars,” explains Prof. Keppler. “However, it cannot be ruled out that microorganisms which might have been living on the planet some time ago might have provided a fraction of the organic matter.”

The Heidelberg scientist assumes that in future Mars missions the isotopic fingerprint of the chloromethane could determine whether its origin is from organic material that is indigenous to Mars, was deposited by meteorites or is contamination from the landers sent from Earth.

Frank Keppler leads the Biogeochemistry working group at Heidelberg University's Institute of Earth Sciences. In addition to scientists from Heidelberg, experts from the Max Planck Institute of Chemistry in Mainz and the School of Biological Sciences at Queen‘s University in Belfast contributed to this research.

Original publication:
F. Keppler, D.B. Harper, M. Greule, U. Ott, T. Sattler, G.F. Schöler & J.T.G. Hamilton: Chloromethane release from carbonaceous meteorite affords new insight into Mars lander findings. Scientific Reports 4 : 7010 (13 November 2014), doi: 10.1038/srep0701

Contact:
Prof. Dr. Frank Keppler
Institute of Earth Sciences
Phone +49 (0) 6221 54-6009
frank.keppler@geow.uni-heidelberg.de

Communications and Marketing
Press Office, phone +49 6221 54-2311
presse@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de


Weitere Informationen:

http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/fakultaeten/chemgeo/geow/researchgroups/keppler/index.html

Marietta Fuhrmann-Koch | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht How brains surrender to sleep
23.06.2017 | IMP - Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pathologie GmbH

nachricht A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation
22.06.2017 | Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>