CORVALLIS, Ore., July 1 (UPI) -- U.S. and British scientists say they have developed a method using ultraviolet light that could identify any organic material present in the soil of Mars.
The researchers from Oregon State University, the University of London and the Kinohi Institute, a non-profit corporation in Pasadena, Calif., said the technique uses ultraviolet light to identify chemical compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, that are often found on comets and meteorites. Scientists believe PAHs might be one of the earliest forms of organic matter in the universe, and may have been carried to planets by collisions with meteors and comets.
PAH compounds fluoresce when illuminated with UV light.
In their experiment, the scientists crushed rock from a nickel mine to create a fine, dusty soil believed to be very similar to the soil on Mars. They infused the soil with the concentration of PAH they would expect to find on a meteorite, and then exposed the soil to UV light.
A type of camera planned for future Mars landers clearly identified as little as 1.5 micrograms of the PAH, producing accurate quantitative estimates of the concentrations.
The study appears in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.