This self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at Vera Rubin Ridge in Gale crater on Mars. The north is left and west is right, with Gale crater’s rim on the horizon from both sides. This mosaic is composed of dozens of photos taken by Curiosity’s Mars Hands Lens Imager (MAHLI). They were all taken on Jan. 23, 2018, during Sol 1943. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
Scientists have looked far and wide for life in the universe, but a new study suggests that the ancient asteroid impact could have produced important ingredients for life” right next door — Mars.
A new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets suggests that Mars has an atmosphere that is rich in hydrogen, the whizzing space rocks has fixed forms of nitrogen, known as nitrites and nitrates. In 2015, NASA’s Curiosity rover found nitrate at the Gale Crater, and before the study, the researchers were not sure where it came from.
The researchers were able to mimic the early atmosphere by the introduction of mixtures of various degrees of hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide in flasks, which were then hit with infrared laser pulses to determine the amount of nitrate formed.
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“The big surprise was that the yield of nitrate is increased when hydrogen is absorbed in the laser-shocked experiments which simulated an asteroid impact,” said study lead author Dr. Rafael Navarro-González, in a statement.
Navarro-González continued: “This is counter-intuitive as hydrogen leads to an oxygen-poor environment, while the formation of nitrate requires oxygen. However, the presence of hydrogen led to a faster cooling of the shock gas is heated, the close of nitric oxide, the precursor of nitrate, at high temperatures, where the yield was higher.”
If Space.com comments, the atmosphere is just 1 percent as thick as Earth’s, but 4 billion years ago, it was considerably thicker. The old planet once had large lakes and oceans, but they have largely evaporated as a result of the weakened atmosphere.
The prospect of significant amounts of hydrogen in the ancient Martian atmosphere mean that the planet once supported life.
“Having more hydrogen as a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is interesting, both because of the climate, the history of Mars and the habitability,” study co-author Jennifer Stern, a planetary geochemist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. said in the statement.
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“If you have a link between two things that are good for the habitability – a potentially warmer climate with liquid water on the surface and an increase in the production of nitrates, which are necessary for life – it’s very exciting,” she continued. “The results of this study suggest that these two things, which are important for life, fit together and one strengthens the presence of the other.”
A study in the late 2018 suggested that there is life hidden under the martian surface in the salt, underground lakes.
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