Asteroids, comets deliver organics to Mars

Organic molecules are thought to be delivered to Mars mostly via interplanetary dust particles. A new piece of research is revealing something quite different.

The elongated crater ‘Spirit of St. Louis’ can be seen in this image of the Martian surface, as seen by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State University
Published: March 16, 2018 at 12:00 pm
Try BBC Sky at Night Magazine today and save 30%!

Asteroids and comets play a more important role delivering organic molecules to Mars than previously thought.

Advertisement

It is expected that organics on Mars mostly come from dust particles in space, but this latest research suggests that one third may come from asteroids and comets.

This is the summary of a new piece of research carried out by scientists from SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, the University of Groningen, Utrecht University and the University of California Santa Barbara.

It's dirty work being the Red Planet! According to calculations, 33 per cent of organic material on Mars is delivered via asteroid and comet showers. Credit: Anastasia Kruchevska
It's dirty work being the Red Planet! According to calculations, 33 per cent of organic material on Mars is delivered via asteroid and comet showers.
Credit: Anastasia Kruchevska

The research goes back to 2015, when the Mars Curiosity rover discovered remnants of organic molecules on the Red Planet.

The prevailing theory at the time was that the molecules were linked to interplanetary dust particles.

But the team behind this new study built computer simulations of the Solar System, including hundreds of thousands of asteroids and comets.

Their simulations show that 192 tons of carbon end up on Mars every year.

About 129 tons of this comes from dust particles, while asteroids deliver about 50 tons and comets about 13 tons.

"Near other stars, there are also exo-asteroids and exocomets that can shower the surfaces of exoplanets with carbon,” says Groningen PhD student Kateryna Frantseva, who led the research.

Advertisement

“If, on top of that, there is water, then you have the required ingredients for life."

Authors

Iain Todd, BBC Sky at Night Magazine
Iain ToddScience journalist

Iain Todd is BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Staff Writer. He fell in love with the night sky when he caught his first glimpse of Orion, aged 10.

Sponsored content