An international team of astrobiologists made an exciting discovery last week on Mars where they found the presence of “thiophenes,” special compounds found in coal, crude oil, and white truffles back on Earth.
The research, published in the Astrobiology journal, explains that thiophenes are made up of two bio-essential elements, carbon and sulfur, but it is possible they were created during meteor impacts which heated sulfates to high temperatures.
The compounds could have been created by bacteria breaking down sulfates some three billion years ago, but the team says it’s too soon to tell for sure. If so, the compounds would indicate the historical presence of life on the red planet.
The compounds were discovered by the Curiosity rover which analyzes compounds by breaking them down into fragments. The more sophisticated European Space Agency’s Rosalind Franklin rover, which is set to launch in the near future, does not use this breakdown technique and could provide more concrete answers.
The presence of organisms breaking down elements could be a telltale sign of life, but there will be no definite answers until an astronaut actually examines the compounds up close and in person. This discovery offers potential evidence for life on Mars. It will be exciting to see how the research team pursues this evidence further as space exploration technology advances.