Anybody Home? Nitrogen, a Key Ingredient for Life DISCOVERED on Mars!

Astronomy PIA17944-MarsCuriosityRover-AfterCrossingDingoGapSanddune-20140209

Published on March 26th, 2015 | by Brandon Ramsey in Astronomy


If I had a dollar for every time Mars teased us with signs of life, I would be able to buy my way into the Mars One program (What? Too Soon?). Here’s hoping that the red planet finally lets the beans spill soon, because we’re leading up to one heck of a discovery, even if we’re a little late to the party.

At a quick glance, Mars looks like a metal sphere that collected a whole lot of rust (a result of the planets’ red soil) but recently new discoveries have been pointing to a past Mars that may have been rich with life. So far, we’ve seen evidence that the planet once had lakes, oceans, and rivers.

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Mars Rover “Curiosity” http://mars.nasa.gov/msl/images/pia16239_c-hpfeat.jpg

Now, a brand new discovery had proven that that nitrogen is present on the planet. You’re probably wondering what that has to do with anything. Sorry, I didn’t mention that nitrogen is a key ingredient for life? Yeah, interested now aren’t you?

Just Out of Curiosity, What Does This Mean?

Get it? It’s funny because the Curiosity rover found evidence of nitrogen compounds in the soil of Mars. Ah, I crack myself up. Anyway, yes, the NASA rover has managed to find compounds in the soil of Mars that are crucial for the development of life. This doesn’t mean that there was definitely life on Mars at any point, but it’s a good sign.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences details these findings in more scientific terms. When it comes to ingredients that are needed for life, there are a few common ones like water, carbon, and others.

PIA17944-MarsCuriosityRover-AfterCrossingDingoGapSanddune-20140209

Curiosity’s view of the Martian surface

The reason why nitrogen is so important though, is because of it’s role in chlorophyll and amino acids. The first term refers to the pigment in plants that allows for photosynthesis. The second term refers to the building blocks that make up proteins. Nitrogen is also found in DNA and ATP, which supplies cells with energy. So yeah, big deal.

Great, so Where’s the Aliens?

Okay, hold your space horses for a second. First of all, if there was any life on Mars, it most likely existed a long time ago. That being said, nitrogen needs to be in a certain form before it can be used by lifeforms. You can’t just pluck it out of the dirt after all.

Nitrogen in the atmosphere is usually bound by a triple bond that needs to be broken before it can be used. Once broken down, it needs to bond with other compounds. On Earth, there are bacteria that do this, but lightning also separates the bonds.

The rock star rover Curiosity found rocks on Mars that contain these “nitrates” which signifies that the process of breaking down and reassembling hydrogen bonds did happen at some point in the planet’s history.

The rover has an onboard laboratory that is used to heat up the rocks and examine the gases that were released. A large amount of nitric oxide was detected which were comparable to the amounts found in barren areas of the Earth likes deserts.

Life? Maybe, or Just Some Rough Times

Here on Earth, nitrates are made by living microbes, but it’s entirely possible that the existence of them on Mars is just the result of lightning and space debris impacting the surface. In other words, no significant evidence to point to life.

Don’t give up though, they are most certainly going to continue searching. With any luck, we’ll have concrete evidence sooner than later. Maybe we’ll find aliens like these:

mars-attacks

“Mars Attacks” via Giphy

Let’s just hope we figure all of this out before the universe implodes. Anyway, thanks as always for reading and don’t forget to share this article with your friends and family!



About the Author
Brandon Ramsey

Brandon Ramsey is the head author and editor of The Time Now Blog. Be sure to follow us via social media!


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