Organic compound possibly derived from Martian soil

Chloromethane can be made from Martian soil.

Did they find life on Mars? Not quite, but an interesting study has shown that organic compounds may have been synthesized from an experiment using Martian soil.

Data gathered by the Mars rover, Curiosity, found chloromethane after an experiment was done by heating up Martian soil. Chloromethane is a chemical compound made up of hydrogen, carbon, and chlorine and is present in some reactions in life. The scientist detected chloromethane after an experiment was done, but scientists at NASA hypothesized that the carbon and hydrogen necessary to form the compound came from the equipment brought on board of the rover and is not natively found in the soil of Mars. Organic compounds do not mean life, but you cannot have life without organic compounds. Scientists are naturally interested in the presence of organic compounds on Mars because it may be an indicator of possible or previous life. 

This research group included British-German scientists, led by Frank Keppler from the Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. He was tasked with figuring out whether or not the organic compound was due to contamination or was in fact possibly made solely from Martian soil. The team hypothesized that meteors falling on the surface of Mars could have provided a source of carbon and hydrogen. The team used a meteor found in Australia in 1969 as a part of their analysis. They found that the meteor was two per cent carbon and a large amount of these micrometeorites fall on the surface of Mars each year, so the hypothesis was that the chlorine in the compound came from the Martian soil but the carbon and hydrogen actually needed comes from these kinds of meteors.

This analysis gives the alternative hypothesis a little more probability than the long-standing belief that it was a contamination issue, but more research will need to be done in order to strengthen the origin hypothesis of the chloromethane found. However, Keppler is not so quick to rule out an alternative

“It cannot be ruled out that microorganisms, which might have been living on the planet some time ago, might have provided a fraction of the organic matter,” said Keppler.

Although there was no evidence presented for this conjecture in this research, scientists including Professor Keppler are keeping their eyes open to the possibility.

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