Quirks & Quarks

Nitrogen on Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover discovers biologically available nitrogen in rocks and sand on Mars

The Curiosity Mars rover finds an essential ingredient for life on Mars

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover self-portrait (NASA/ JPL-Caltech/MSSS/AP)
We know Mars was once warmer and wetter than it is today, but did it have other necessities of life? Well, new research from the Curiosity rover on Mars has found that one vital ingredient for life is available on Mars - just the right kind of nitrogen.

Nitrogen makes up 80% of our atmosphere and about 2% of that of Mars. But the nitrogen gas in the atmosphere is not in a form that organisms can use to make amino acids, DNA and proteins. It must be made "bio-available" by cracking the strong bonds in nitrogen gas and recombining the atoms with oxygen or hydrogen.

According to Dr. Jennifer Stern, a planetary geochemist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, Curiosity has found nitrate - nitrogen and oxygen - in Martian soil and rocks, which would have been available for use by primitive life on Mars - if it existed.

Related Links

Paper in PNAS
- NASA release
Washington Post story
Phys.org story