A huge diversity of organic compounds found in the Tissint meteorite

It is the most comprehensive catalog of organic compounds found in a Martian sample.
Jijo Malayil
A fragment of the Tissint meteorite
A fragment of the Tissint meteorite

Ludovic Ferriere/Natural History Museum Vienna 

A study has confirmed the presence of a "huge diversity" of organic compounds in the Tissint Martian meteorite that crashed on Earth's surface 12 years back. The meteorite was named after the city of Tissint in Morocco, around which the fragments of it landed on July 18, 2011. The meteorite is one of the five Martian rocks observed as they fell to Earth.

Around 37 pounds (17 kilograms) of the sample was collected with minor compositional variance between the recovered dozens of fragments near Tissint. The "recovery efforts starting days after the impact provided access to very fresh, contaminant-free material for organic analysis," according to the study published in the journal Science Advances. A team of researchers from the Technical University of Munich, Helmholtz Munich, and Carnegie Science conducted the study.

According to researchers, the study has found the presence of a remarkably diverse suite of pristine reduced to oxidized carbon compounds in the Tissint Mars meteorite. They were able to "analyze the meteorite’s organic inventory, revealing a link between the type and diversity of organic molecules and specific mineralogy," according to a news release.

A range of organic compounds discovered 

The discovery of an array of organic compounds is the most comprehensive catalog found in a Martian meteorite or samples collected and tested by a Martian rover. 

The presence of organic molecules containing carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur is commonly associated with life. However, researchers suggest it can be attributed to proof of life, as previous Martian meteorite research demonstrated that they could also be created by non-biological processes. 

The discovery of an abundance of organic magnesium compounds, a suite of organic molecules not previously seen on Mars, was the research's highlight. 

The main highlights of the study 

According to the team, the study shed light on how the processes occurring in Mars’ mantle and crust evolved, especially concerning abiotic organics formed from water-rock interactions. 

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This discovery offers "new insights about the high-pressure, high-temperature geochemistry that shaped the Red Planet’s deep interior and indicate a connection between its carbon cycle and its mineral evolution."

Researchers suggest that by understanding the "processes and sequence of events that shaped this rich organic bounty will reveal new details about Mars’ habitability and potentially about the reactions that could lead to the formation of life."

Abstract

We report a huge organic diversity in the Tissint Mars meteorite and the sampling of several mineralogical lithologies, which revealed that the organic molecules were nonuniformly distributed in functionality and abundance. The range of organics in Tissint meteorite were abundant C3-7 aliphatic branched carboxylic acids and aldehydes, olefins, and polyaromatics with and without heteroatoms in a homologous oxidation structural continuum. Organomagnesium compounds were extremely abundant in olivine macrocrystals and in the melt veins, reflecting specific organo-synsthesis processes in close interaction with the magnesium silicates and temperature stresses, as previously observed. The diverse chemistry and abundance in complex molecules reveal heterogeneity in organic speciation within the minerals grown in the martian mantle and crust that may have evolved over geological time.