A new study has shown that asteroid influences on ancient Mars could have produced life-sustaining ingredients if the Martian atmosphere were rich in hydrogen. Researchers at the Curiosity Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) said a hydrogen-rich atmosphere would explain how the planet is habitable. The ingredients are nitrites (NO2) and nitrates (NO3).
Both nitrates are important for sustaining and maintaining life.
The rover detected both constituents in soil and rock samples within the Gale Crater, which had old lakes on Mars.
The researchers reconstructed the early Martian atmosphere to understand how solid nitrogen has deposited in the crater.
They found that the Red Planet may have been warmer in the past.
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Dr. Rafael Navarro-González said: "The big surprise was that the nitrate yield increased when hydrogen was included in the simulated laser shock experiments asteroid impacts.
"This was not intuitive, since hydrogen leads to an oxygen-poor environment, while the formation of nitrate requires oxygen.
"However, the presence of hydrogen resulted in faster cooling of the shock water d gas capturing nitric oxide, the precursor of nitrate, at higher temperatures where its yield was higher. "
Climate models show that hydrogen in the atmosphere is necessary to raise temperatures to have liquid on the surface of the planet.
Christopher McKay explains that the presence of nitrate is of" great astrobiological significance. "
He said: "Due to the low nitrogen gas in the atmosphere, nitrate is the only biologically useful form of nitrogen on Mars.
Its presence in the soil is of great astrobiological importance.
" This work helps us to understand the possible sources of this nitrate. "