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NASA’s Mars rover is conducting a unique experiment looking for clues to ancient life

Curiosity took this look at its SAM instrument in September 2020.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

Venus could be in the spotlight right now, but Mars refuses to be forgotten in search of evidence of life beyond our planet. NASA’s Curiosity rover finally got the chance to conduct a long-awaited experiment looking for organic molecules.

Curiosity is preoccupied with looking for evidence that Mars was once habitable for microbial life. The rover̵

7;s latest SAM TMAH experiment marked a new milestone in this investigation.

The subject of the test was a piece of rock powder drilled from a site called “Mary Anning” after a pioneering 19th century English paleontologist.

The rover uses its SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) instrument to detect vital elements (such as nitrogen, oxygen and carbon) in Martian rock samples. It uses a collection of small cups to analyze powder samples. Some of the cups heat the rock to collect gases, others contain chemical solvents.

The TMAH part of the experiment relates to the chemical tetramethylammonium hydroxide. Curiosity only has two cups of TMAH, which makes it an extremely precious commodity on the red planet.

“TMAH will help our science team figure out what fragments of organic (carbonaceous) materials are present in the clayey rocks of Mary Anning,” NASA atmospheric researcher Scott Guzewich wrote on the Curiosity blog last week.

The rover team hopes to learn more about the chemistry of ancient Mars, especially now that Curiosity is exploring you fascinating clay-rich area with a likely history of water. Guzewich said the SAM TMAH experiment “could help us understand whether the necessary ingredients for life were in Gale Crater when it was better known as” Gale Lake “.”

NASA has sent a number of increasingly sophisticated rovers to Mars. The curiosity that landed in 2012 is complemented by the new one Endurance Rover Early 2021. It is still an open question whether Mars was once home to life, but the work of the rovers may give us some answers.

“The team is now eagerly awaiting the results, which will take several months to fully interpret,” wrote planetary geologist Ryan Anderson in a mission update last week.

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