Based on a new report from the New Scientist, NASA’s mission from 1976, when the first experiment to search for organic matter on the Red Planet took place, might have destroyed by accident what could have been the first discovered organics on Mars.
Perchlorate on the Red Planet
Back in ’76, researchers were amazed by the fact that the two Viking landers sent by NASA to search for organic matter on Mars did not find anything. Scientists have long suspected that organics exist on Mars, so the findings were totally surprising and contradictory to what they believed and expected. A potential clarification for this came to light when in 2008, NASA’s Phoenix lander managed to find perchlorate on the Red Planet.
Perchlorate is a chemical compound that becomes extremely explosive under high temperatures. Even though Mars’ surface is not that warm, the spectrometer that was used by the Viking landers to search for organic molecules had to heat Martian soil samples. Due to the presence of the perchlorate in the soil, it is believed that the instrument had burned up any possible organics that might have existed in the samples.
The discovery of chlorobenzene could prove the theory
Nevertheless, the discovery of perchlorate was not enough to prove that NASA’s landers might have found and then accidentally destroyed organic matter, therefore scientists had to continue with their examination. The Curiosity rover has recently discovered various organic molecules on Mars, amongst which was chlorobenzene. This specific molecule is produced once perchlorate burns with carbon molecules, hence the scientists presume that its origin lies in the burning of the soil samples.
A new study was also published last month in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, when a team of researchers re-examined the data from the Viking landers just to be sure that they did not previously leave out any details. What they found is that apparently, the Viking landers also discovered chlorobenzene. However, some of the scientists believe this is not enough proof that NASA’s landers found and unintentionally burned organic molecules back in ’76. It appears that even the scientists from this investigation do not agree on one conclusion.