CORVALLIS, Ore. A team of scientists from the United States and the United Kingdom has developed a technique using ultraviolet light to identify organic matter in soils that they say could be used to document the existence of life on Mars.
The researchers' proposed instrumentation could operate on any Mars lander or rover, they say, such as the current Phoenix mission or NASA's Mars Science Laboratory scheduled for launch in 2009 both of which are looking at habitability or the European Space Agency's ExoMars mission in 2013 that will look directly at the past or present existence of life on the red planet.
Their research was just published in the American Geophysical Union's journal, Geophysical Research Letters.
Chemical compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, often are found on comets, meteorites and in space between the stars, and are considered candidates for being one of the earliest forms of organic matter in the universe. Like living organisms, these molecules fluoresce when excited by ultraviolet light, making them an ideal target for using this new technology, according to Martin Fisk, a professor of marine geology at Oregon State University and a co-author of the study.
"Since PAHs are found on meteorites, we would expect some of that material to fall from space onto the surface of Mars," Fisk said. "But we also know the surface is bombarded by ultraviolet light and cosmic rays, which would destroy organic matter. Computer simulations, including those carried out (by co-authors at) University College London, suggest that the organic material is protected under the surface of Mars, down below a meter or so, and can be brought up via a drill and identified."
Michael Storrie-Lombardi, lead author and director of the Kinohi Institute in Pasadena, said the techniques the research team are using have been employed "every day in the safety of our laboratories for almost 100 years.
|Contact: Marty Fisk|
Oregon State University