Evidence for indigenous nitrogen in sedimentary and aeolian deposits from the Curiosity rover investigations at Gale crater, Mars

Jennifer C. Stern, Brad Sutter, Caroline Freissinet, Rafael Navarro-González, Christopher P. McKay, P. Douglas Archer, Arnaud Buch, Anna E. Brunner, Patrice Coll, Jennifer L. Eigenbrode, Alberto G. Fairen, Heather B. Franz, Daniel P. Glavin, Srishti Kashyap, Amy C. McAdam, Douglas W. Ming, Andrew Steele, Cyril Szopa, James J. Wray, Javier Martin-Torres & 4 others Maria Paz Zorzano, Pamela G. Conrad, Paul R. Mahaffy, Mark H. Thiemens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

63 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) investigation on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover has detected oxidized nitrogen-bearing compounds during pyrolysis of scooped aeolian sediments and drilled sedimentary deposits within Gale crater. Total N concentrations ranged from 20 to 250 nmol N per sample. After subtraction of known N sources in SAM, our results support the equivalent of 110-300 ppm of nitrate in the Rocknest (RN) aeolian samples, and 70-260 and 330-1,100 ppm nitrate in John Klein (JK) and Cumberland (CB) mudstone deposits, respectively. Discovery of indigenous martian nitrogen in Mars surface materials has important implications for habitability and, specifically, for the potential evolution of a nitrogen cycle at some point in martian history. The detection of nitrate in both wind-drifted fines (RN) and in mudstone (JK, CB) is likely a result of N2 fixation to nitrate generated by thermal shock from impact or volcanic plume lightning on ancient Mars. Fixed nitrogen could have facilitated the development of a primitive nitrogen cycle on the surface of ancient Mars, potentially providing a biochemically accessible source of nitrogen.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4245-4250
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume112
Issue number14
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 7 2015
Externally publishedYes

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Mars
Exploratory Behavior
Nitrogen
Nitrates
Nitrogen Cycle
Lightning
Nitrogen Compounds
Nitrogen Fixation
Shock
Hot Temperature
History

Keywords

  • Astrobiology
  • Curiosity
  • Mars
  • Nitrates
  • Nitrogen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

Cite this

Evidence for indigenous nitrogen in sedimentary and aeolian deposits from the Curiosity rover investigations at Gale crater, Mars. / Stern, Jennifer C.; Sutter, Brad; Freissinet, Caroline; Navarro-González, Rafael; McKay, Christopher P.; Archer, P. Douglas; Buch, Arnaud; Brunner, Anna E.; Coll, Patrice; Eigenbrode, Jennifer L.; Fairen, Alberto G.; Franz, Heather B.; Glavin, Daniel P.; Kashyap, Srishti; McAdam, Amy C.; Ming, Douglas W.; Steele, Andrew; Szopa, Cyril; Wray, James J.; Martin-Torres, Javier; Zorzano, Maria Paz; Conrad, Pamela G.; Mahaffy, Paul R.; Thiemens, Mark H.

In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 112, No. 14, 07.04.2015, p. 4245-4250.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Stern, JC, Sutter, B, Freissinet, C, Navarro-González, R, McKay, CP, Archer, PD, Buch, A, Brunner, AE, Coll, P, Eigenbrode, JL, Fairen, AG, Franz, HB, Glavin, DP, Kashyap, S, McAdam, AC, Ming, DW, Steele, A, Szopa, C, Wray, JJ, Martin-Torres, J, Zorzano, MP, Conrad, PG, Mahaffy, PR & Thiemens, MH 2015, 'Evidence for indigenous nitrogen in sedimentary and aeolian deposits from the Curiosity rover investigations at Gale crater, Mars', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 112, no. 14, pp. 4245-4250. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1420932112
Stern, Jennifer C. ; Sutter, Brad ; Freissinet, Caroline ; Navarro-González, Rafael ; McKay, Christopher P. ; Archer, P. Douglas ; Buch, Arnaud ; Brunner, Anna E. ; Coll, Patrice ; Eigenbrode, Jennifer L. ; Fairen, Alberto G. ; Franz, Heather B. ; Glavin, Daniel P. ; Kashyap, Srishti ; McAdam, Amy C. ; Ming, Douglas W. ; Steele, Andrew ; Szopa, Cyril ; Wray, James J. ; Martin-Torres, Javier ; Zorzano, Maria Paz ; Conrad, Pamela G. ; Mahaffy, Paul R. ; Thiemens, Mark H. / Evidence for indigenous nitrogen in sedimentary and aeolian deposits from the Curiosity rover investigations at Gale crater, Mars. In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2015 ; Vol. 112, No. 14. pp. 4245-4250.
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AU - McKay, Christopher P.

AU - Archer, P. Douglas

AU - Buch, Arnaud

AU - Brunner, Anna E.

AU - Coll, Patrice

AU - Eigenbrode, Jennifer L.

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AU - Ming, Douglas W.

AU - Steele, Andrew

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AU - Wray, James J.

AU - Martin-Torres, Javier

AU - Zorzano, Maria Paz

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AU - Mahaffy, Paul R.

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N2 - The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) investigation on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover has detected oxidized nitrogen-bearing compounds during pyrolysis of scooped aeolian sediments and drilled sedimentary deposits within Gale crater. Total N concentrations ranged from 20 to 250 nmol N per sample. After subtraction of known N sources in SAM, our results support the equivalent of 110-300 ppm of nitrate in the Rocknest (RN) aeolian samples, and 70-260 and 330-1,100 ppm nitrate in John Klein (JK) and Cumberland (CB) mudstone deposits, respectively. Discovery of indigenous martian nitrogen in Mars surface materials has important implications for habitability and, specifically, for the potential evolution of a nitrogen cycle at some point in martian history. The detection of nitrate in both wind-drifted fines (RN) and in mudstone (JK, CB) is likely a result of N2 fixation to nitrate generated by thermal shock from impact or volcanic plume lightning on ancient Mars. Fixed nitrogen could have facilitated the development of a primitive nitrogen cycle on the surface of ancient Mars, potentially providing a biochemically accessible source of nitrogen.

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