ISLAMABAD-In a little more than a decade, samples of rover-scooped Martian soil will rocket to Earth. While scientists are eager to study the red planet’s soils for signs of life, researchers must ponder a considerable new challenge: Acidic fluids – which once flowed on the Martian surface – may have destroyed biological evidence hidden within Mars’ iron-rich clays, according to researchers at Cornell and at Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología. 

The researchers conducted simulations involving clay and amino acids to draw conclusions regarding the likely degradation of biological material on Mars. Their paper, “Constraining the Preservation of Organic Compounds in Mars Analog Nontronites after Exposure to Acid and Alkaline Fluids,” published in Nature Scientific Reports. In the search for life on Mars, the red planet’s clay surface soils are a preferred collection target since the clay protects the molecular organic material inside. However, the past presence of acid on the surface may have compromised the clay’s ability to protect evidence of previous life.