NASA Rover on Mars finds Nitrogen

NASA Rover on Mars finds Nitrogen

NASA

Curiosity has found another building block of life on Mars.

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found┬ánitrogen on Mars.┬áThe nitrogen was detected in the form of nitric oxide, and could be released from the breakdown of nitrates during heating.

Nitrates contain nitrogen in a way that can be used by living organisms. The discovery adds to the evidence that Mars once was habitable for life.

“Finding a biochemically accessible form of nitrogen is more support for the ancient Martian environment at Gale Crater being habitable,” said Jennifer Stern of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Stern is lead author of a paper on this research published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science March 23.

The team found evidence for nitrates in scooped samples of windblown sand and dust at the “Rocknest” site, and in samples drilled from mudstone at the “John Klein” and “Cumberland” drill sites in Yellowknife Bay. Since the Rocknest sample is a combination of dust blown in from distant regions on Mars and more locally sourced materials, the nitrates are likely to be widespread across Mars, according to Stern.

The results support the equivalent of up to 1,100 parts per million nitrates in the Martian soil from the drill sites. The team thinks the mudstone at Yellowknife Bay formed from sediment deposited at the bottom of a lake. Previously the rover team described the evidence for an ancient, habitable environment there: fresh water, key chemical elements required by life, such as carbon, and potential energy sources to drive metabolism in simple organisms.

“Scientists have long thought that nitrates would be produced on Mars from the energy released in meteorite impacts, and the amounts we found agree well with estimates from this process,” said Stern.

NASA has published more details about the new findings here.

Curiosity has landed on Mars in August of 2012. It since roams an area on Mars collecting and analyzing samples.



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