Scientists solve the mystery of the meteorite that fell in Morocco in 2011
A new study has found that a Martian meteorite that hit Earth 12 years ago contained a “huge variety” of organic compounds, including some never before seen on Mars.
Scientists say the results could help better understand the Red Planet’s habitability and whether it could have once harbored life.
The Tissint meteorite fell into the sky over the city of Tissint in Morocco on July 18, 2011, when pieces of space rock rained down on the surrounding desert.
It is possible that a meteorite that formed on the surface of Mars hundreds of millions of years ago was ejected by our nearest space neighbor due to a cataclysm before being detected in the Earth’s gravitational field.
This is one of the five Martian meteorites that people have seen when they fell on our planet.
In a new study published Jan. 11 in the journal Science Advances, scientists analyzed meteorite fragments and found examples of at least five different types of organic compounds.
This represents “the most comprehensive catalog of the diversity of organic compounds found in a Martian meteorite or in a sample collected and analyzed by the rover,” the scientists said in a statement.
Organic compounds are molecules containing carbon atoms bonded to atoms of one or more elements (usually hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur) as well as other elements. These compounds are extremely abundant in all life forms on Earth, which means that their presence in space rocks may indicate the presence of life elsewhere in the solar system. However, some organic compounds can also be formed through non-biological processes, so scientists cannot tell if these compounds are a sign of life on other planets.
The scientists noted that the Tecent meteorite contains organic magnesium compounds that are “extremely common” throughout the meteorite and have not previously been found in Martian samples.
The team believes that these compounds formed under the high pressure and high temperatures of the ancient Martian mantle (the layer under the Martian crust), meaning they are not biological and could shed light on how deep inside the Red Planet formed.
The team also found many other compounds inside the meteorite, including aliphatic branched carboxylic acids, which are compounds with a structure similar to the amino acids that make up proteins, such as aldehydes, compounds in which the carbon has a double bond or shares a few electrons with an oxygen atom, olefins or hydrocarbons with one or more carbon atoms bonded together; and polyaromatic compounds, which are complex hydrocarbons with multiple ring structures.
This is not the first time that organic compounds have been found inside a Martian meteorite, as the ALH 84001 meteorite that fell into Antarctica in 1984 contained many organic compounds, and its discovery sparked years of debate about whether these compounds could form. ancient Martian life forms.
But in July 2022, scientists discovered that the compounds within ALH 84001 likely formed from underlying geological interactions billions of years ago.
While none of these organic compounds identified in the new study are clear biomarkers of extraterrestrial life, the scientists note that they could still help scientists learn something new about our cosmic neighbor, including whether ancient geological conditions that would have preferred life on the planet.
Source: Living Science