NASA's Curiosity rover discovered biologically useful Nitrogen on Mars
The discovery adds to the evidence that suggests ancient Mars was habitable for life. The findings were made by a team of NASA scientists using the SAM instrument suited on the rover.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Curiosity rover found evidence of nitrogen on the surface of Mars. The discovery adds to the evidence that ancient Mars was habitable for life.
The finding was published by the NASA on its website on 24 March 2015.
The discovery was made by a team of scientists using the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument placed aboard the rover. Nitrogen was found in the form of Nitric Oxide which was released when Martian sediments were heated.
The discovery assumes significance because of the critical role of nitrogen as the building block of RNA and DNA which control life processes.
However, it is still not clear that the biochemical compounds discovered by the spacecraft are formed by life processes or not because other non-biological processes like meteorite impacts and lightning also can also fix nitrogen dioxide as free nitrogen molecules. Fixation of nitrogen is essential for it to take part in any biochemical processes.
The rover has already discovered evidence at the Gale Crater that suggests existence of liquid water and organic matter in the ancient Martian environment. In December 2014, the spacecraft discovered regular methane emissions near the Martian surface.
The Curiosity rover was launched on 26 November 2011 by the NASA with an aim to study the Martian atmosphere and explore the possibilities for future human habitation.