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Traces Of Boron On Mars Could Be Evidence Of Life

8 September 2017, 7:48 am EDT By Athena Chan Tech Times
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Mars's Gale crater is home to NASA's Curiosity Rover. The image shows the Martian crater in false colors that identify and differentiate the different minerals on the surface.  ( NASA | JPL-CALTECH | Arizona State University )

New research reports on the discovery and confirmation of the presence of boron on Mars. Is this the evidence we need to prove that life once existed on the Red Planet?

Second Confirmation

A newly published research paper describes the discovery of the presence of boron on the surface of Mars. The discovery was made by NASA's Curiosity rover in the Gale crater, which is its home, and was identified thanks to Curiosity's Chemical and Camera (ChemCam) instrument. ChemCam is the rover's instrument that is capable of identifying the composition of rocks by blasting them with a laser and then analyzing the gases.

This is already the second confirmation of the presence of boron on Mars after the 2013 confirmation that a Martian meteorite found in Antarctica indeed contained the chemical.

Why Boron Is Important

Scientists have long envisioned an "RNA world" where proto-life consists merely of individual RNA strands, each of which contains genetic information, and each one capable of copying itself. An important ingredient in RNA is a sugar called ribose. However, sugars are pretty unstable, as they decompose quickly, hence unable to stand long enough to create RNA.

Boron comes into the story as a stabilizing agent in the creation of RNA. When it dissolves into water, it becomes borate and stabilizes the single RNA strands long enough to create RNA. RNA is very important because it is one of the building blocks of life. Without it, life cannot exist, and the presence of boron on Mars suggests that the chemical reactions may have occurred a long time ago.

Life On Mars?

The discovery was made in multiple calcium sulfate veins including the Shaler sandstone and 38 veins in the Mount Sharp Group Murray mudstone and Stimson sandstone. Finding boron in these locations essentially means that boron was present in Martian groundwater.

If we are to look at how boron initiates the creation of RNA after dissolving in water and the locations from which traces of it were found, it seems to show compelling evidence pointing to a habitable Mars. However, scientists also believe that it is still too early to make conclusions regarding Mars's habitable past or a lack thereof.

"Whether Martian life has ever existed is still unknown. No compelling evidence for it has been found," states the Los Alamos National Laboratory press release.

As it stands, Curiosity has already completed its mission of confirming that Mars had once indeed offered a habitable environment. Now we wait to see if it can find out if anything or anyone thrived in Mars's habitability.

The paper is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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