Life On Mars: Intriguing New Research Shows That Minerals On The Red Planet May Hold Fatty Acids

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Scientists looking for life on Mars now believe that there is a very strong possibility that there are minerals on the planet which may hold fatty deposits, and have investigated a stream in the south of England to prove their hypothesis.

Researchers have examined a highly acidic stream near St. Oswald’s Bay which has water that is not dissimilar to that which would have once been found on Mars more than three billion years ago, as Space reports. This stream holds a mineral known as jarosite which is able to retain organic matter within it, including fatty acids.

As time marches on, this jarosite turns into goethite. And in an extremely dry climate like that found on Mars, goethite eventually dehydrates and becomes hematite. It is this mineral that is so rich in iron which has given Mars its nickname, “Red Planet.” Importantly, hematite, goethite and jarosite have all been found on Mars in abundance.

After analyzing all of the fatty acids that had been preserved in the goethite in the English stream, scientists determined that it is highly possible that Mars may have more than 28.6 billion kilograms of fatty deposits tucked away within its many rocks.

Mark Septhon of Imperial College London explained that the probability is good that these fatty acids exist on Mars.

“If you just throw carbon atoms together in a non-biological fashion, then there are 50,000 other possible isomers that the carbon atoms could form before they get to a chain of 18 carbon atoms. The presence of an 18-carbon-atom fatty acid is almost certain to have been produced by biological processes.”

However, scientists will now need to determine the existence of fatty acids through the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) by way of the Curiosity rover. To do this, rock and dirt will need to be baked so that it causes organic molecules to evaporate before it is ready for the Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer (GCMS).

After this, SAM is able to use what is known as ‘wet chemistry’ cups which contain a host of different chemicals. Once the original sample obtained by SAM is mixed within these chemicals it is then fired up to a whopping 900 degrees Celsius so that they can be properly analyzed with the GCMS to see if Mars does indeed hold fatty deposits within its rocks.

This is where things get tricky as there are only two shots to perform this experiment, as Jennifer Eigenbrode from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center noted.

“We only get two attempts at the experiment. The team is considering all options, including a clay-rich layer adjacent to Vera Rubin Ridge, which has been a key target for analysis since the start of the mission.”

It is also highly important that the right samples be obtained in the first place, according to Sephton.

“You can have the best instrument, the best technique, but if you’ve got the wrong sample, you won’t find any fatty acids. The work we’ve done in Dorset is to try and provide the information that will allow the best choice of sample on Mars.”

Featured image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSSAP Images

In 2020 NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will team up with the Curiosity rover, and then later on the ExoMars rover, and both of these contain laboratories that will be able to determine whether organic compounds or fatty acids once existed on Mars, which would show that the “Red Planet” once held life on it.

The new study suggesting that life once existed on Mars after analyzing fatty deposits found in a stream in England has been published in Scientific Reports.