NASA’s Curiosity rover has made yet another incredible discovery on Mars as the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument finds biologically useful nitrogen.
Using the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument onboard the Curiosity rover, a team of scientists has detected, for the first time ever, nitrogen on the surface of Mars which is believed to come from release during heating of Martian sediments.
Researchers detected the nitrogen in the form of nitric oxide and is believed to have been released from the breakdown of nitrates during heating on Mars. Interestingly, nitrates are a class of molecules that have nitrogen in a form that can be used by living organism. This discovery is of great significance to the team of scientists at NASA since it adds further evidence to the theories that ancient Mars was habitable for life as we know it. The Curiosity rover has sure been of great help for researchers on Earth.
We know that Nitrogen is essential for all known forms of life on Earth. This is because it is used in the building blocks of lager molecules like DAN and RNA, which encode the genetic instructions for life.
While there is still ‘no’ evidence that suggests nitrogen molecules found by the NASA scientists indicate there is life on Mars, increasing spikes of Methane on Mars seem to indicate scientists could have underestimated Mars’ ability to sustain life. Researchers firmly maintain that Mars is inhospitable for known forms of life. This, however, means that forms of life that are unknown to us could survive on harsh environments such as those found on the surface of Mars. Just because we haven’t found it, doesn’t mean it does not exist.
The team of researchers believes that the nitrates Curiosity picked up on Mars are in face ancient, and likely to have come from non-biological processes like meteorite impacts, even though they cannot completely rule out the possibility of some sort of life existing on Mars.
Remember that not long ago, it was believed that Mars was a completely dead planet. Now we know it isn’t and it sure wasn’t in the distant past. Scientists have found out that there is liquid water flowing on Mars today. They have also discovered that in the distant past, the red planet had an atmosphere eerily similar to that of Earth and that the surface of Mars was covered by vast oceans, lakes, and rivers. This is why ruling out a connection between life (or, at least, primitive life) on Mars and methane spikes and biologically useful Nitrogen on Mars could prove to be a mistake.
“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.
According to writings on NASA.GOV: “Features resembling dry riverbeds and the discovery of minerals that only form in the presence of liquid water suggest that Mars was more hospitable in the remote past. The Curiosity team has found evidence that other ingredients needed for life, such as liquid water and organic matter, were present on Mars at the Curiosity site in Gale Crater billions of years ago.”
This means that the team behind NASA’s very own Alien robot on Mars has found several pieces of evidence that firmly suggest that many much-needed ingredients for life as we know it have been present on Mars in the distant past.
“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.” (source)