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In the Hunt for the Red Planet's Dirtiest Secret

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Science  31 Aug 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6098, pp. 1032-1033
DOI: 10.1126/science.337.6098.1032

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Summary

Project scientists on the Curiosity rover mission are taking on the challenge of searching 3-billion-year-old rock at a single spot on an alien planet for the organic remains—molecular fossils, if you will—of life. As Curiosity cruised toward Mars and a safe landing on 6 August (EDT), researchers were recognizing ways that Mars could be destroying organic evidence of any past life. Megajoule cosmic rays blast organic molecules to bits, and a chemically reactive brew in martian soil probably chews up organic matter in a few millennia, never mind eons. Given the dearth of studies of organic matter's fate under martian conditions, Curiosity's chances of success are anyone's guess