An astronomy paper published on the 22nd in the British “Nature Communication” magazine pointed out that the scientific instruments currently deployed by humans on Mars may not be able to reach the sensitivity to detect signs of life.
Humans have been trying repeatedly to find signs of life on Mars since the launch of the Viking missions in the 1970s. Now, half a century later, NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers can only detect simple organic molecules in very low amounts. These results raise some questions: Are current state-of-the-art equipment or the properties of the material inside Martian rocks limiting our ability to find evidence of life?
Scientists at the Spanish Astrobiology Research Center tested instruments that are currently being sent to Mars together with advanced laboratory equipment, using them to analyze samples from the “Redstone”. Redstone is the fossilized remains of sediments located in a river delta in Chile’s Atacama Desert. These deposits were formed under extremely arid conditions 160-100 million years ago and have similar geological characteristics to the Jezero crater that Perseverance is studying on Mars.
However, an analysis of detection instruments in service on Mars showed that they were barely able to detect, within detection limits, the signatures of molecular fossils, organic compounds formed after the decomposition of organic components of ancient organisms that remain in rock formations.
If life did exist on Mars billions of years ago, there would have been low levels of organic matter, and the findings suggest that such low levels of organic matter would be difficult or impossible to detect with current techniques on Mars. The researchers also emphasized the need to bring samples back to Earth, so that the final conclusion on whether life ever existed on Mars can be drawn.