Credit: Bastian Baecker (University of Heidelberg and Max Planck Institute for Chemistry) and Luigi Folco (University of Pisa)
By Tanya Lewis
The origins of organic matter found by Mars lander missions have long been debated, but a new study suggests a way to find out whether these chemicals of life came from the Red Planet or elsewhere.
Several Mars lander missions have detected chloromethane, a chemical sometimes produced by living organisms, but most scientists think the findings were contamination from Earth.
Now, a team of researchers has replicated these experiments on a meteorite found on Earth, and found that it produced chloromethane from organic materials contained in the space rock. The findings suggest the chloromethane on Mars may have come from meteorite debris on the planet’s surface or the Martian soil itself, rather than from Earth.
NASA’s Viking landers descended onto the Red Planet in 1976. The Viking 1 lander, the first of the two, detected chloromethane in a sample of soil it baked in a small oven on board. The second lander, Viking 2, did not detect chloromethane, but did find traces of dichloromethane, another organic compound. However, scientists dismissed the findings, saying they were contamination from Earth.
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