newly discovered carbon may yield clues to ancient mars
A selfie taken by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover on Sol 2291 at the “Rock Hall” drill site, located on Vera Rubin Ridge. Reduced carbon released from powder from this drill hole was strongly depleted in carbon 13, the surprising carbon isotopic signature reported by the team. The selfie is composed of 57 individual images taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), a camera on the end of the rover’s robotic arm. Credit: NASA/Caltech-JPL/MSSS.

NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars on Aug. 6, 2012, and since then has roamed Gale Crater taking samples and sending the results back home for researchers to interpret. Analysis of carbon isotopes in sediment samples taken from half a dozen exposed locations, including an exposed cliff, leave researchers with three plausible explanations for the carbon’s origin—cosmic dust, ultraviolet degradation of carbon dioxide, or ultraviolet degradation of biologically produced methane.

The researchers note today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that “All three of these scenarios are unconventional, unlike processes common on Earth.”

Carbon has two stable isotopes, 12 and 13. By looking at the amounts of each in a substance, researchers can determine specifics about the carbon cycle that occurred, even if it happened a very long time ago.

“The amounts of carbon 12 and carbon 13 in our solar system are the amounts that existed at the formation of the solar system,” said Christopher H. House, professor of geosciences, Penn State. “Both exist in everything, but because carbon 12 reacts more quickly than carbon 13, looking at the relative amounts of each in samples can reveal the carbon cycle.”

Curiosity, which is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, has spent the last nine years exploring an area of Gale Crater that has exposed layers of ancient rock. The rover drilled into the surface of these layers and recovered samples from buried sedimentary layers. Curiosity heated the samples in the absence of oxygen to separate any chemicals. Spectrographic analysis of a portion of the reduced carbon produced by this pyrolysis showed a wide range of carbon 12 and carbon 13 amounts depending on where or when the original sample formed. Some carbon was exceptionally depleted in carbon 13 while other carbon samples where enriched.

“The samples extremely depleted in carbon 13 are a little like samples from Australia taken from sediment that was 2.7 billion years old,” said House. “Those samples were caused by biological activity when methane was consumed by ancient microbial mats, but we can’t necessarily say that on Mars because it’s a planet that may have formed out of different materials and processes than Earth.”

To explain the exceptionally depleted samples, the researchers suggest three possibilities—a cosmic dust cloud, ultraviolet radiation breaking down carbon dioxide, or ultraviolet degradation of biologically created methane.

According to House, every couple of hundred million years the solar system passes through a galactic molecular cloud.

“It doesn’t deposit a lot of dust,” said House. “It is hard to see any of these deposition events in the Earth record.”

To create a layer that Curiosity could sample, the galactic dust cloud would have first lowered the temperature on a Mars that still contained water and created glaciers. The dust would have deposited on top of the ice and would then need to remain in place once the glacier melted, leaving behind a layer of dirt that included the carbon.

So far, there is limited evidence of past glaciers at Gale Crater on Mars. According to the researchers, “this explanation is plausible, but it requires additional research.”

A second possible explanation for lower amounts of carbon 13 is the ultraviolet conversion of carbon dioxide to organic compounds like formaldehyde.

newly discovered carbon may yield clues to ancient mars
The Highfield drill hole on Vera Rubin Ridge. Drill powder from this hole showed carbon isotope values indicating a carbon cycle that includes either subsurface life, intense UV radiation penetrating the atmosphere, or Interstellar dust. The image was taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager on sol 2247. Credit: NASA/Caltech-JPL/MSSS.

“There are papers that predict that UV could cause this type of fractionation,” said House. “However, we need more experimental results showing this size fractionation so we can rule in or rule out this explanation.”

The third possible method of producing carbon 13 depleted samples has a biological basis.

On Earth, a strongly carbon 13 depleted signature from a paleosurface would indicate past microbes consumed microbially produced methane. Ancient Mars may have had large plumes of methane being released from the subsurface where methane production would have been energetically favorable. Then, the released methane would either be consumed by surface microbes or react with ultraviolet light and be deposited directly on the surface.

However, according to the researchers, there is currently no sedimentary evidence of surface microbes on the past Mars landscape, and so the biological explanation highlighted in the paper relies on ultraviolet light to place the carbon 13 signal onto the ground.

“All three possibilities point to an unusual carbon cycle unlike anything on Earth today,” said House. “But we need more data to figure out which of these is the correct explanation. It would be nice if the rover would detect a large methane plume and measure the carbon isotopes from that, but while there are methane plumes, most are small, and no rover has sampled one large enough for the isotopes to be measured.”

House also notes that finding the remains of microbial mats or evidence of glacial deposits could also clear things up, a bit.

“We are being cautious with our interpretation, which is the best course when studying another world,” said House.

Curiosity is still collecting and analyzing samples and will be returning to the pediment where it found some of the samples in this study in about a month.

“This research accomplished a long-standing goal for Mars exploration,” said House. “To measure different carbon isotopes—one of the most important geology tools—from sediment on another habitable world, and it does so by looking at 9 years of exploration.”

Also working on the project from Penn State was Gregory M. Wong, recent doctoral recipient in geosciences. More information: Depleted carbon isotope compositions observed at Gale crater, Mars, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2022). doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2115651119 Journal information: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Provided by Pennsylvania State University Citation: Newly discovered carbon may yield clues to ancient Mars (2022, January 17) retrieved 17 January 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-01-newly-carbon-yield-clues-ancient.html This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

TECH NEWS RELATED

Google to warn users against phishing attacks on Chat

PTINew Delhi: Google has announced to display warning notifications in its Chat application to protect users from hackers and phishing attacks.“In Google Chat, you’ll see banners warning against potential phishing and malware messages coming from users with personal Google Accounts,” the company said in a statement.“These warning banners, which are ...

View more: Google to warn users against phishing attacks on Chat

Samsung Galaxy M53 5G, Galaxy M33 5G new Emerald Brown colour variant launched in India

Samsung recently unveiled the Galaxy M33 5G and Galaxy M53 5G in a new colour option in India. The Galaxy M33 5G and Galaxy M53 5G have been introduced in Emerald Brown. The Samsung Galaxy M33 5G is priced at Rs 17,999 for the 6GB/128GB model and Rs 19,499 ...

View more: Samsung Galaxy M53 5G, Galaxy M33 5G new Emerald Brown colour variant launched in India

Lupita Nyong'o drops out of Apple TV+ show 'Lady in the Lake'

Source: Variety What you need to know Lupita Nyong’o has dropped out of Lady in the Lake. The Apple TV+ show will star Natlie Portman. Lupita Nyong’o has now dropped out of the upcoming Apple TV+ show Lady in the Lake, although the season for the change hasn’t been given. ...

View more: Lupita Nyong'o drops out of Apple TV+ show 'Lady in the Lake'

OnePlus Nord 2T Arrives In Malaysia, See Expected Price & Specs

The OnePlus Nord 2T smartphone has been launched in Malaysia. Let’s take a look at its price and availability in the country. OnePlus has launched a new smartphone in Malaysia under its Nord series. Notably, the officially confirmed Nord 2T specs corroborate past leaks. This mid-range device has been subject ...

View more: OnePlus Nord 2T Arrives In Malaysia, See Expected Price & Specs

Why don’t we ever hear about ransomware demands in the tens of millions of dollars?

At a certain level, the alleged perfect security of the dark web becomes amenable to enquiry

View more: Why don’t we ever hear about ransomware demands in the tens of millions of dollars?

(3rd LD) Hyundai to build US$5.54 bln EV, battery plant in Georgia

(ATTN: ADDS photo) SEOUL, May 21 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group said Saturday it will invest US$5.54 billion to build a dedicated electric vehicle and car battery manufacturing plant in the United States to further solidify its electrification push in the world’s most important automobile market. The announcement ...

View more: (3rd LD) Hyundai to build US$5.54 bln EV, battery plant in Georgia

SolarWinds ready to move past breach and help customers manage theirs

Acknowledging that 2021 was a tough year, SolarWinds CEO says it has bolstered its build model and expanded its systems monitoring capabilities so customers can better manage the complexities of hybrid cloud environments.

View more: SolarWinds ready to move past breach and help customers manage theirs

Huawei P50 Pre-Order In Malaysia: Get Freebies Worth Up To RM1000

The Huawei P50 has gone up for pre-order in Malaysia. This affordable smartphone targets budget-conscious buyers in the country. To recap, Huawei launched the P50 Pro in Malaysia in January 2022. However, the standard P50 launch detail was scarce at the time. Its been four months since the Pro model ...

View more: Huawei P50 Pre-Order In Malaysia: Get Freebies Worth Up To RM1000

Hyundai to build $5.5 bn electric vehicle plant in US

Rio's urban gardens produce healthy food for the poor

Boeing docks crew capsule to space station in test do-over

Twitter opens reverse chronological home timeline to app developers

Cryptocurrency Crash Course: Terra, LUNA, and UST, What Are They and What’s Happening?

Moon-Saturn Conjunction May 2022: What Are the Upcoming Celestial Sky Events? How and When to Watch Them

Astronomy & Astrophysics 101: James Webb Space Telescope

Haptics device creates realistic virtual textures

Long-hypothesized 'next generation wonder material' created for first time

Honor Magic4 Pro Launch Date In Malaysia Officially Confirmed

Fintech cos get innovative to charge up EV financing

Apple’s AR/VR Headset is Reportedly Going the Standalone Route! Jony Ive Still a Consultant?

OTHER TECH NEWS

Top Car News Car News