Curious Mars

Mars: June 2013

Writing in the journal Nature Geoscience, astrobiologists Alberto Fairen of Cornell University and Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Washington State University say the NASA Office of Planetary Protection's "detailed and expensive" efforts to keep Earth microorganisms off Mars are making missions to search for life on the red planet "unviable."

The compositions of the 3.7-billion-year-old surface rocks on Mars -- as observed by the Spirit rover at Gusev crater -- are shown to be consistent with early mixing of oxidized surface material into the uppermost Martian mantle: such oxidation appears to have had less influence on more recent volcanic rocks, which are sampled as Martian meteorites.

Researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa NASA Astrobiology Institute (UHNAI) have discovered high concentrations of boron in a Martian meteorite. When present in its oxidized form (borate), boron may have played a key role in the formation of RNA, one of the building blocks for life. The work was published on June 6 in PLOS One.