Curiosity finds nitrogen on Mars

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  • Published: Mar 25, 2015
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: HPLC / Sample Preparation / Electrophoresis / Gas Chromatography / Laboratory Informatics / Detectors / Proteomics & Genomics / Ion Chromatography / NMR Knowledge Base / MRI Spectroscopy / Proteomics / Atomic / Raman / Infrared Spectroscopy / X-ray Spectrometry / Base Peak / Chemometrics & Informatics / UV/Vis Spectroscopy
thumbnail image: Curiosity finds nitrogen on Mars

On the same day that NASA announced that its veteran workhorse Opportunity had just completed a marathon on Mars, travelling 26.219 miles (42.195 km) in 11 years 2 months, it also broke news of an exciting discovery by the new pretender, the Curiosity Rover.

Nitrogen, in the form of nitric oxide, was detected when samples of sand, dust and mudstone were heated and analysed by the GC/MS module in the rover’s SAM suite of instruments. The scientific team suspect that the nitric oxide was released from nitrate that was present in the samples. The results were announced in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

This is not evidence of previous life on Mars, but rather more proof that the conditions existed for life on ancient Mars, complementing the discovery of carbon and signs of water long ago. This form of nitrogen would have been biologically accessible and could have contributed to early life.

"Scientists have long thought that nitrates would be produced on Mars from the energy released in meteorite impacts, and the amounts we found agree well with estimates from this process," said Jennifer Stern of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The effects of lightning could also have transformed nitrogen gas into nitrates.

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