Scientists have discovered evidence of nitrates on Mars, according to the LA Times. The nitrates, specifically nitric oxide, were discovered through investigative sampling of the planet’s rocks and mudstone deposits.
Nitrates are nitrogen compounds that provide pivotal nutrients for living things on Earth. These new developments provide even stronger evidence that life once existed on Mars.
While scientists are still searching for organic carbon, another key component to living and thriving on a planet, nitrogen is said to play a necessary role in the existence of any species.
“People want to follow the carbon, but in many ways nitrogen is just as important a nutrient for life,” said author Jennifer Stern, a planetary geochemist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Stern is also a science team member for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.
“Life runs on nitrogen as much as it runs on carbon,” she continued.
While most nitrates are created by living things, scientists believe the nitrates found on the red planet were created during a “thermal shock” due to a lightening strike or an asteroid.
Moving forward, Stein wishes to conduct further research on whether the nitrates are still being produced.
“We’re going to try to understand whether this process is still happening today at all,” said Stern, “or whether this all happened in the past in a different Mars, in a different climate regime, in a different atmosphere.”