Mexican participation vital for the study of life on Mars

The seasonal presence of methane on the planet's atmosphere could indicate the presence of life, according to Mexican investigator Rafael Navarro González
Mexican participation vital for the study of life on Mars
Artist rendering released by NASA showing a rover exploring the surface of Mars - Photo: AP Photo/NASA
12/06/2018
21:00
Newsroom & Agencies
Mexico City
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NASA’s car-sized Mars explorer vehicle Curiosity has found new evidence of resistant carb-containing compounds in sedimentary rocks of around three million years old near the planet surface, as well as stationary variations in the atmosphere’s methane levels.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) explained that, although these compounds do not prove the existence of life on Mars, they’re a good indicator for future missions exploring the planet’s surface and subsoil.

The work of the Mexican investigator Rafael Navarro González was crucial for this discovery, according to a press release issued by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

The organic molecules found contained carbon and hydrogen, and may even include oxygen, nitrogen, and other elements, which could have come to existence through non-biological processes and are not necessarily signs of life, NASA explained.

However, the work of NASA collaborator Navarro Gonzalez from UNAM’s Institute of Nuclear Sciences was helpful in detecting real organic matter on the Red Planet through his participation in the chemical analysis team of Sample Analysts at Mars (SAM).

Curiosity’s results, which are soon to be published in the Science Magazine, revealed that a water lake within the Gale crater had all the ingredients to host life forms billions of years ago, including chemical components and energy sources.

“The study site was the Gale crater, where we believe there was once an ocean. The crater is around 93 miles in diameter and it was formed 3,600 million years ago,” explained the Mexican investigator, Rafael Navarro González.

On the other hand, Navarro González talked about the likelihood of methane sources in the subsoil, caused by small bacteria that transforms hydrogen and carbon dioxide into methane.

Methane is usually a bioindicator for the search of life outside Earth, which is why its presence on a planet’s surface, as well as its fluctuations in the atmosphere, are likely to point to the existence of life if other criteria are met.

“There could also be an abiotic contribution such as olivine minerals’ reaction to water, which can generate methane under certain hydrothermal conditions,” he added.

These new results show that the low levels of methane within the Gale crater peak during the warm months of summer and decrease during the winter.

The information was presented at a conference in the Marcos Moshinky auditorium, in the company of Miguel Alcubierre Moya, head of the ICN.

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