NASA may have discovered, accidentally destroyed organics on Mars in 1976

Christopher Davidson
July 13, 2018

And, in the case of the Red Planet, the dunes would have provided shelter from the intense surface radiation, increasing the chances that they could still harbor some signs of past alien life, explained Day. In this new study, Day and Catling identified about 300 previously undiscovered ghost dunes in the Hellas Basin-a 1600-mile long impact crater that also boasts volcanic flows and canyon systems-and almost 500 in Noctis Labyrinthus, a mazelike tangle of steep valleys. Then wind blew the sand away from the inside, leaving an empty shell behind-a "ghost dune".

The shapes, known as "ghost dunes", are the hardened casts of ancient sand dunes, created when lava or sediments seeped and solidified around the lower contours of the dunes. Scientists reviewing data from past NASA Viking lander missions found that, when some of the first spacecraft landed on Mars in 1976, they may have destroyed the very organic material they were looking for. The first ghost dunes were found on Earth in 2016 in the Snake River Plain, in eastern Idaho. They also appear to be barchan dunes - common dune types on both Mars and Earth.

The presence of organic molecules could mean life exists on Mars-or did at one point.

The reason why this is relevant is because the ghost dune pits may actually be lined with ancient dune sandstones, which could have encapsulated traces of past microbial life.

They found them by examining images of Mars' surface for clusters of crescent-shaped pits, "aligned like croissants on a baker's tray", as Lester puts it.

The two researchers estimate that the ghost dunes at Noctis Labyrinthus were about 40 meters (130 feet) high when they were first buried under the lava streams, while the ones at the Hellas basin stood nearly twice as tall.

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"There is probably nothing living there now".

She claims that the chlorobenzene Viking found may have come from material they carried from Earth to Mars.

If we're really lucky, the dunes might be able to tell us even more about the ancient landscape.

"They are all going the same way, which you would expect for dunes because they are all migrating and forming in the same wind regime". "But if there ever was anything on Mars, this is a better-than-average place to look". At a height of 75 meters (246 feet), these sand dunes were almost the size of the U.S. Capitol building, notes Atlas Obscura.

In a separate study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, a team from LATMOS research centre in France revisited the Viking lander data.

"The fact that the wind was different [when the ghost dunes formed] tells us that the environmental conditions on Mars aren't static over long timescales, they have changed over the past couple billion years, something we need to know to interpret the geology on Mars", Day said.

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