Martian dust devils may create rare rocket fuel ingredient | Science


University of Arizona/ JPL-Caltech/ NASA

TheRed Planet is an abundant source of perchlorates– chemical substances utilized in fertilizer and rocket fuel that are seldom formed naturally onEarth Now, laboratory experiments recommend how the uncommon substances are produced on Mars: from the electrical fields formed by international dust storms, along with whirlwinds called dust devils.

For more than 5 years, researchers have actually assumed that perchlorates are relatively common on Mars, thanks to proof from the Phoenix Mars lander and the Curiosity rover. On Earth, the chain reactions that create these substances are usually powered by sunshine. But designs of climatic chemistry recommend simple sunshine isn’t sufficient to do the technique onMars Instead, they show that strong electrical fields, such as those produced by fixed electrical energy in international dust storms, might break down gases in the martian environment and therefore drive perchlorate-generating responses.

To test that idea in the laboratory, scientists put a gas mix representing the martian environment–95% co2, 2% nitrogen, 2% argon, and 1% oxygen– in a big chamber, in addition to a source of chlorine, salt. The scientists reduced temperature level and pressure in the chamber till they matched Mars- like conditions. They then exposed the mix to electrical fields of the magnitude most likely present inside martian dust storms and dust devils (seen from orbit, above).

Almost right away, a few of the gases in the chamber broke down to form extremely reactive, favorably charged variations of co2, carbon monoxide gas, and nitrogen particles. Over time, responses created significant quantities of chlorates (ions which contain one chlorine atom and 3 oxygen atoms) and perchlorates. The group approximates rates of perchlorate development inside martian dust storms might be as much as 10 million times higher than those driven by sunshine, the scientists report in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

To astrobiologists, perchlorates are interesting. Although these compounds are poisonous to human beings– and therefore might threaten possible human settlements on Mars– some microorganisms can to utilize perchlorates to fuel their metabolic process.

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