Evidence of former biological life on Mars may have been destroyed by acidic fluids, according to new research - one possible explanation for why it's so hard for us to find anything. Scientists from Cornell University and European institutions suggest that a new experiment shows that such fluids could have seriously affected the possibility of finding traces of early life on the planet's surface. Researchers have long sought to obtain samples of Martian clay to analyze them carefully on Earth and protect any organic material inside, but it will be some time before this is possible.
The Perseverance rover, launched by NASA into space on July 30, will land on Mars next February, and the European Space Agency's Rosalind Franklin rover will set off on a similar journey in two years. The former will be tasked with collecting samples and sending them to Earth, but this should not be expected until around 2030, while the latter will conduct similar analyzes on site. Until then, we are left with experiments on Earth using data obtained on Mars and counting that the internal layered structure of clay was sufficient to protect traces of life such as lipids, peptides, biopolymers, and nucleic acids.
Unfortunately, recent experiments show that we need to be biased towards this less optimistic scenario: 'We know that acidic fluids have floated on the surface of Mars in the past, altering clay and its ability to protect organic material,' explains study co-author Alberto Fairén. The scientists simulated Martian conditions in a laboratory with the goal of preserving an amino acid called glycine from the clay samples. However, these were previously treated with acidic liquids to trace the resulting processes: - We used glycine because it degrades quickly under the planet's environmental conditions. He is the perfect informant who will tell us everything about what is happening in our experiment - they add. Then it turned out that the layers of clay under the influence of acidic liquids collapse and the organic matter cannot be preserved, because it is simply destroyed. This may be the answer to why looking for signs of life on Mars is so difficult.