In the search for life on Mars will help... vanadium

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2017-09-26 12:00:08

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In the search for life on Mars will help... vanadium Source:

Search biology on a nearby planet Mars clearly does not play a Hollywood movie with little green men. No, although many scientists admit that the red planet could exist or existed life, it will probably represent fossilized bacteria. To find them, astrobiologists will probably have to decode the chemical analysis of rock samples carried out by the Rover (like the one that NASA plans to send to Mars in 2020). Only then mankind may finally learn that there is life beyond Earth.

A New article in the journal Astrobilogy suggests that NASA and others who prey on evidence of Martian biology in the form of "microfossils", can use the element vanadium in combination with Raman spectroscopy to organic material as biosignature confirming traces of extraterrestrial life.

"it is Very difficult to look for microfossils in ancient sedimentary rocks on Earth – and even more difficult on Mars," says Craig Marshall, lead author and associate Professor of Geology at Kansas state University. "On the ground that the rocks 3.5 billion years, and the tectonic collision and restructuring have had a lot of pressure on the stones. In addition, these rocks can be in depth, and with depth of temperature increases".

Marshall compares potential ancient Martian microorganism with a cut of steak from the supermarket in a pressure cooker.

"You see that steak looks biological — of dripping blood," he says. "Then you put it in a pressure cooker for a long time until he will turn into wood charcoal. It may be abiotic charcoal or born of heat and pressure, and organic material. Many biological compounds are destroyed and torn under the action of heat and pressure, and you're left with one carbon. We can see this carbon using Raman spectroscopy".

Indeed, paleontologists and astrobiology, hunting for pieces of Martian life, has for some time used Romanovsky spectroscopy, a method that can reveal cellular composition of the sample.

"People say, "If it looks like a life and gives Raman signal of the carbon, that's life," says Marshall. "But, of course, we know that the carbonaceous matter can be produced in other processes, such as hydrothermal vents — and will resemble microfossils, which also serves the carbon signal. People also make the perfect carbon structures with their hands that resemble microfossils — one to one. So, we are now at the crossroads where it is difficult to say whether it is possible to characterize the life, based on the morphology and Raman spectroscopy".

In the new work, Marshall and his co-authors suggested the possibility of the train to check if the microfossils once alive. According to the researchers, their proposed method can be deployed with tools that will go according to plan with the NASA Rover in 2020. It will explore areas in which the ancient environment could have hidden microbial life.

"We applied a new method called x-ray fluorescence microscopy: it shows the composition of the elements," says Marshall. "Vanadium — an element of the periodic table, transition metal. It can be a substitute in biological compounds. If it is not possible to determine exactly in front of you biological goal or not, using morphology and Raman spectroscopy together, you may need to look for known biological element like vanadium. And then, if the material is similar to the microfossils, with carbon on the spectroscope and has a vanadium — this may indicate a biological entity goal."

According to the researchers, the vanadium can be found in crude oil, asphalt and black shales, formed of the recognized biological sources.

"vanadium is combined with the molecule of chlorophyll," says Marshall. "Typically, chlorophyll contains magnesium in the center, but the vanadium replaces the magnesium. The chlorophyll molecule becomes entangled within the carbonaceous material, thereby maintaining the vanadium. Imagine that you have in the garage is a rope, and whenever you use, you fold it and lay, to untie the next time you need it. But over time, lying on the garage floor, rope tangle, and it settles things. Even if much to shake things won't fall out. The same thing happens with the carbon material is a tangled mess of sheets of carbon, which confused vanadium".

Marshall and his colleagues proved the concept of search of vanadium on the well-known microfossils recognized terrestrial origins — organic microfossils-acritarcha, which may not be so far from evidence of possible life on the red planet.

"We tested acritarcha to test our concept on the microfossils, which no doubt represent preserved ancient biology," says Marshall. "The age of these microfossils, we believe the Devonian, the aquatic microorganisms, which are considered algae, eukaryotic cell, more advanced than bacterial. We found a vanadium content, as expected from cyanobacterial material."

"We plan to conduct further work on the Raman spectroscopy on carbonaceous materials using nanospectroscopy imaging", the researchers say. They also Express the hope that the project will be involved with the start of the mission Mars 2020.

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