Did Mars once have a nitrogen cycle? Scientists find fixed nitrogen in Martian sediments

Javier Martín-Torres, Professor of Atmospheric Science at Luleå University of Technology, is one of several researchers who has found fixed forms of nitrogen in Mars. The research findings are now being published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This discovery is a new step in assessing whether Mars is and/or was habitable, since nitrogen is a basic requirement for life as we know it,” says Javier Martín-Torres.

It’s the researchers in the Mars Science Laboratory Mission Science Team, in which Javier Martín-Torres is included, who have discovered the solid forms of nitrogen on Mars.

“The presence of nitrogen-bearing compounds in Martian soil means the existence of a source of biochemically accessible nitrogen, and suggest that it could be a nitrogen cycle sometime along the evolution of Mars as a planet,” he says.

Many findings behind the discovery

The detection has been verified through analyses of samples taken at three different points on Mars. Analyses are made by the instrument SAM (Sample Analysis on Mars) on board the unmanned rover Curiosity located on Mars. Two of the samples come from drilling at a place called Sheepbed mudstone and the third sample is generally believed to be representative of the global Martian dust.

“It has been established that the nitrates, which is a form of nitrogen, comes from fixation of atmospheric diatomic nitrogen in the atmosphere during meteorite impacts, which is consistent with the data that we obtained through the SAM analyses, so this may be the main source of fixed nitrogen on Mars,” says Javier Martín-Torres.

Martin-Torres is also co-author of the scientific manuscripts on the first detection of organics on Mars (published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets) and the first in-situ measurement of methane on the Red Planet, which in 2014 was published in the journal Science.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Luleå University of Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Jennifer C. Stern, Brad Sutter, Caroline Freissinet, Rafael Navarro-González, Christopher P. McKay, P. Douglas Archer, Arnaud Buch, Anna E. Brunner, Patrice Coll, Jennifer L. Eigenbrode, Alberto G. Fairen, Heather B. Franz, Daniel P. Glavin, Srishti Kashyap, Amy C. McAdam, Douglas W. Ming, Andrew Steele, Cyril Szopa, James J. Wray, F. Javier Martín-Torres, Maria-Paz Zorzano, Pamela G. Conrad, Paul R. Mahaffy. Evidence for indigenous nitrogen in sedimentary and aeolian deposits from theCuriosityrover investigations at Gale crater, Mars. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015; 201420932 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1420932112

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