A recent paper published in the journal Astrobiology by a team of scientistsargues that the presence of “thiophenes could be a sign of ancient life on the Red Planet. ‘Thiophenes are special compounds found in fossil fuels such as coal and crude oil.
The lead scientists Dirk Schulze-Makuch, comments “We identified several biological pathways for thiophenes that seem more likely than chemical ones, but we still need proof”. “If you find thiophenes on Earth, then you would think they are biological, but on Mars, of course, the bar to prove that has to be quite a bit higher,” Shulze-Makuch added.
The team, isn’t jumping to any conclusions just yet.
Thiophenes are made up of two elements, carbon and sulfur which are essential to life. However, there is a possibility they could’ve been created during meteor impacts that heat sulfates to high temperatures. This is one possible explanation the researcher Team are considering.
If the compounds were indeed a sign of life, they could’ve been the result of ancient bacteria on early earth some three billion years ago breaking down sulfates — or alternatively could have been broken down by the bacteria. Even with this, they still cannot draw conclusions.
The Curiosity rover works by fragmentation and analysis of compounds. This method is destructive. The European Space Agency is working on a new rover dubbed Rosalind Franklin however which has a Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer (MOMA). This rover is not as destructive as the Curiosity rover.
Whilst we do not have a definite evidence on the presence of life on Mars, more clues are been gathered at an impressive scale. With few more years of rigorous research and scientific discourse, maybe we would be able to tell if our red neighbour support life or not.