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How Curiosity Rover Discovered Thiophene on Mars Predicting Signs of Early Life

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Recently a new research paper published in the Journal of Astrobiology researched organic molecule Thiophene. The Curiosity rover discovered Thiophene on the Red Planet that is consistent with early life on Mars.

Curiosity Rover Discovered Thiophene:

Curiosity Rover extracted Thiophene molecules from the Mudstone section of Gale Crater called the Murray Formation. At initial experiments, Rover discovered many organic molecules, and among them were Aromatic Thiophene molecules.

Thiophene Presence on Earth:

On Earth, Thiophene occupies exciting places such as superheated dead plants, crude oil. Oddly enough, they found in truffles, mushrooms loved by Epicureans and Mushrooms.

The research paper published by Schulze-Makuch and Jacob Heinz with the Technische Universität in Berlin suggested that the biological process is involved in Thiophenes’ existence. The existence of organic molecules on Mars is most likely to be traced through a bacterium rather than a truffle.

“We identified several biological pathways for thiophenes that seem more likely than chemical ones, but we still need proof,” Dirk Schulze-Makuch said. “If you find thiophenes on Earth, then you would think they are biological, but on Mars, of course, the bar to prove that has to be quite a bit higher.”

Structure of Thiophene Molecule:

Thiophene C4H4S is a heterocyclic compound consist of a five-membered ring. It has a ringed structure in which four carbon atoms and one sulfur atom is present. Both sulfur and carbon belong to a group of bio-essential elements. Its property of substitution reactions places it under aromatic compound, thus resembling benzene.

Non-Biological Existence of Thiophene:

But Schulze-Makuch and Heinz could not find out how a non-biological process leads to the existence of these compounds on Mars. Although Thiophene exists in Coal and Oil, they can also produce at high temperatures. When a set of compounds heated at high temperature through thermochemical sulfate reduction, then Thiophene is produced. So, meteor impacts could be a possible explanation for thiophene existence through the abiotic process.

Biological Existence of Thiophene:

Human naked-eye cannot see bacteria, but they were so powerful to exist more than 3 million years ago. When Mars was warmer and wetter, Bacteria could have helped in the sulfate reduction process resulting in Thiophene. There are several pathways for sulfate reduction carried out by bacteria. And, curiosity rover discovered Thiophene in ancient Martian soil.

Curiosity Rover Gave Clues:

Curiosity Rover uses effective techniques to break larger compounds into its fragments. It helped scientists in finding clues because they can research on the resulting pieces.

Rosalind Franklin Rover to Launch in July 2020:

Another Rover to help scientists find life traces on Mars will set to start in July 2020. It will provide further evidence with the help of Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer or MOMA. MOMA will use the latest techniques to allow the collection of larger molecules.

Schulze-Makuch and Heinz suggested collecting isotopes of Thiophene by next Rover. Isotopes are the variants of an element and only differ in the number of neutrons or mass.

“Organisms are ‘lazy.’ They would instead use the light isotope variations of the element because it costs them less energy,” Schulze-Makuch and Heinz said.

 Tell-tale Signal for Life:

Organisms can change the ratios of heavy and light isotopes when they produce them. The compounds are then different from their building compounds. Schulze-Makuch and Heinz called this phenomenon “Tell-tale Signal for Life.”

If another rover sends clues from Mars, we cannot be sure about the existence of life there.

“As Carl Sagan said, ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,'” Schulze-Makuch said. “I think the proof will require that we send people there, and an astronaut looks through a microscope and sees a moving microbe.”


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