Indexed on: 14 Sep '16Published on: 14 Sep '16Published in: Astrobiology
The analysis of the organic compounds present in the martian regolith is essential for understanding the history and habitability of Mars, as well as studying the signs of possible extant or extinct life. To date, pyrolysis, the only technique that has been used to extract organic compounds from the martian regolith, has not enabled the detection of unaltered native martian organics. The elevated temperatures required for pyrolysis extraction can cause native martian organics to react with perchlorate salts in the regolith and possibly result in the chlorohydrocarbons that have been detected by in situ instruments. Supercritical carbon dioxide (SCCO2) extraction is an alternative to pyrolysis that may be capable of delivering unaltered native organic species to an in situ detector. In this study, we report the SCCO2 extraction of unaltered coronene, a representative polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), from martian regolith simulants, in the presence of 3 parts per thousand (ppth) sodium perchlorate. PAHs are a class of nonpolar molecules of astrobiological interest and are delivered to the martian surface by meteoritic infall. We also determined that the extraction efficiency of coronene was unaffected by the presence of perchlorate on the regolith simulant, and that no sodium perchlorate was extracted by SCCO2. This indicates that SCCO2 extraction can provide de-salted samples that could be directly delivered to a variety of in situ detectors. SCCO2 was also used to extract trace native fluorescent organic compounds from the martian regolith simulant JSC Mars-1, providing further evidence that SCCO2 extraction may provide an alternative to pyrolysis to enable the delivery of unaltered native organic compounds to an in situ detector on a future Mars rover.Biomarkers-Carbon dioxide-In situ measurement-Mars-Search for Mars' organics. Astrobiology 16, 703-714.