In this image, taken by NASA Curiosity rover, you can see a sample of the smallest particles from the soil of the Red Planet, which were collected as part of the scientific Internet project Yellowknife. The photo was taken by the Martian camera Mastcam on February 20, 2013.
Despite the sudden leakage of chemicals that labeled complex organic substances in samples collected by NASA's Curiosity rover, scientists still managed to do their job, which was reported on Tuesday.
The Curiosity rover has just transmitted data that Martian soil is 2% water! And this is the answer to the eternal question of whether there is life on Mars and whether the Red Planet can become a haven for future space colonists from Earth.
In the onboard laboratory Curiosity, a network of experiments in the framework of “wet chemistry” was conducted, which were aimed at identifying suspicious carbon-containing components in samples taken from rocks.
At the very beginning of the mission, when none of the metal reagent plates were opened, N-methyl-N-t-butyldimethylsilyl-trifluoroacetamide (MTBSTFA) liquid vapors penetrated the gas analyzer.
In August 2012, Curiosity landed in a 96-mile wide Martian basin, known as the Gale Crater. The purpose of the mission was to find answers to the following questions: to what extent is the Red Planet like Earth? And have there ever been suitable chemical and biological conditions for maintaining microbiotic life? Scientists quickly coped with the tasks, fixing the presence of sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon in powder samples drilled in ancient mudstones in the area of Yellowknife Bay.
This made it possible to start a more ambitious hunt for complex organic molecules, despite the difficulties caused by the leakage of MTBSTFA.
“The leak at the very beginning of the mission gave us a lot of headaches because carbon and other chemicals in the samples tend to disintegrate under the influence of MTBSTFA,” said Danny Glavin, a scientist from the NASA Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. His speech took place on March 17 at a cosmological conference in Houston, Texas.
“We figured out how to neutralize the leakage, which allowed us to turn failure into a guarantee of real victory! In fact, we used steam from this leakage to carry out derivatization, which is designed to label organic molecules.
Samples taken at Yellowknife Bay were stored inside the SAM Mars Sampling Analyzer while the rover was on its two-year journey to Sharp, more than three miles high. These samples quickly reacted with the MTBSTFA vapors and became sensitive to any organic inclusions, which turned out to be very useful, ”said Glavin.
Scientists have figured out how to extract, collect and analyze enriched steam in such a way as to preserve all the organic components. In addition, scientists compared the results obtained with sample residues that were also exposed to vapors for two years, but were heated twice to extreme temperatures. Initial results showed that there are complex organic substances on Mars, but much work remains to be done to determine their relationship with specific compounds. Probably, this will require more than one year of hard work. “This is really interesting. We have at our disposal Martian argillite extracted from the lake, and organic molecules, some of which are of astrobiological interest, “- said Glavin.
“And now the million dollar question! Are the molecules obtained biological or not? I would like to answer you, but, unfortunately, I can not yet. We have several compounds that we are now carefully studying. And at the moment we do not have enough reliable data to draw the line between biology and non-biology, ”he added.