Curiosity and perseverance probes have been eating Martian dust for miles in search of traces that could take us back to past life on this planet, but things could be much more complicated than that.
Thanks to some experimental data collected recently, we think we will have to dig at least two meters underground to reach an interesting layer from this point of view. With no magnetic field and a fragile atmosphere, Mars is exposed to a much higher dose of cosmic radiation than Earth, meaning that all the amino acids we are looking for are destroyed.
“Our results indicate that amino acids are destroyed by cosmic rays in the surface rocks and regolith of Mars at much higher speeds than previously thought,” says physicist Alexander Pavlov of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
“Current Mars probe missions are about 5 centimeters across. At those depths, it would only take 20 million years to completely destroy the amino acids. Adding perchlorate and water increases the rate of amino acid destruction.”
We’ll have to equip our rovers with slightly more powerful drilling tools to get back into the still-intact layers, where radiation hasn’t been able to erase the planet’s memory.
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