The most comprehensive search for organics in the Martian soil was performed by the Viking Landers. Martian soil was subjected to a thermal volatilization process to vaporize and break organic molecules, and the resultant gases and volatiles were analyzed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Only water at 0.1-1.0 wt% was detected, with traces of chloromethane at 15 ppb, at Viking landing site 1, and water at 0.05-1.0 wt% and carbon dioxide at 50-700 ppm, with traces of dichloromethane at 0.04-40 ppb, at Viking landing site 2. These chlorohydrocarbons were considered to be terrestrial contaminants, although they had not been detected at those levels in the blank runs. Recently, perchlorate was discovered in the Martian Arctic soil by the Phoenix Lander. Here we show that when Mars-like soils from the Atacama Desert containing 32 ± 6 ppm of organic carbon are mixed with 1 wt% magnesium perchlorate and heated, nearly all the organics present are decomposed to water and carbon dioxide, but a small amount is chlorinated, forming 1.6 ppm of chloromethane and 0.02 ppm of dichloromethane at 500°C. A chemical kinetics model was developed to predict the degree of oxidation and chlorination of organics in the Viking oven. Reinterpretation of the Viking results therefore suggests ≤0.1% perchlorate and 1.5-6.5 ppm organic carbon at landing site 1 and ≤0.1% perchlorate and 0.7-2.6 ppm organic carbon at landing site 2. The detection of organics on Mars is important to assess locations for future experiments to detect life itself.
Journal of Geophysical Research (Planets)
- Pub Date:
- December 2010
- Planetary Sciences: Solar System Objects: Mars;
- Biogeosciences: Astrobiology and extraterrestrial materials;
- Biogeosciences: Biosignatures and proxies;
- Planetary Sciences: Solar System Objects: Instruments and techniques