WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- U.S. space scientists have determined Mars, as well as similar planets, are capable of forming organic compounds -- the building blocks of life.
Led by the Carnegie Institution in Washington, the researchers analyzed minerals and organic material in a meteorite ejected from Mars. They compared their findings with data from rocks in Svalbard, Norway. The Svalbard rocks occurred in volcanoes that erupted in a freezing Arctic climate about 1 million years ago -- conditions thought to have existed on early Mars.
The organic material exists in tiny spheres of minerals in the rocks from Svalbard, and was formed during volcanic eruptions, the scientists said. As the rocks cooled, the mineral magnetite acted as a catalyst, forming organic compounds from fluids rich in carbon dioxide and water.
That event occurred under conditions in which no forms of life are likely to exist. A similar association of carbon, magnetite, and organic material was found in the Martian meteorite, suggesting the organic material formed directly from chemical reactions within the rock.
The researchers theorize their findings mean life can form on cold, rocky planets throughout the universe -- including Mars.
The research appears in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science.