Searching for Organics in Martian Meteorites

PhD student Aine O’Brien is currently working in collaboration with the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC) to identify organic molecules present within meteorites from Mars. Aine is one of 6 PhD students within the planetary science research group within GES, where research is focused on the study of extraterrestrial materials.

Her work at SUERC involves carefully grinding small amounts of these extremely rare meteorites into a powder, and then chemically extracting the organics present within. The organic extractions will then be analysed to identify the molecules present, and separate out the terrestrial background contamination from those the martian organics. Molecular identification will be performed within GES via gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and at the University of Glasgow Polynomics Facility.

Ultimately, the identification of a martian organic signature will help us understand the carbon cycle on Mars, and whether Mars ever had the potential to support life. Both NASA’s Mars 2020 rover and ESA’s ExoMars rover are due for launch next summer, carrying instruments aimed at the detection of organics (e.g., SHERLOC and MOMA). Therefore, Aine’s research will prove highly relevant as a ground-based comparison to these surface investigations.

First published: 28 August 2019