In DepthPlanetary Science

Mars rover finds long-chain organic compounds

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Science  27 Mar 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6229, pp. 1402-1403
DOI: 10.1126/science.347.6229.1402

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Scientists working with NASA's Curiosity rover have made the most definitive detections of organic molecules on Mars yet: a six-carbon compound called chlorobenzene at levels of up to 300 parts per billion. Moreover, they have found hints of heavier, longer-chain molecules—even a possible 10-carbon carboxylic acid resembling a fatty acid, a type of molecule found in cell walls. Although the detected molecules do not necessarily indicate past or present life—the compounds could also come from asteroid impacts or rocks exhumed from Mars's mantle—they show that fragile organic materials can survive in the harsh environment. The method used to isolate the more complex organics turns what had heretofore been a contamination issue—leakage of a solvent used in Curiosity's "wet labs"—into a new tool for discovery.

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