Organics on Mars
The exploration of habitable environments on Mars, including an assessment of the preservation potential for organic compounds of either abiotic or biotic origin in Martian rock, regolith fines, and the atmosphere, is one of the key goals of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission which landed the Curiosity Rover in Gale Crater. The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite on the Curiosity rover is conducting the most extensive search for volatiles and organic compounds in the Martian near-surface materials since the Viking missions in 1976. SAM is designed to conduct inorganic and organic chemical analyses of the atmosphere and the surface regolith and rocks to help evaluate the past and present habitability potential of Mars at Gale Crater. Central to this task is the development of an inventory of any organic molecules present to elucidate processes associated with their origin, diagenesis, concentration, and long-term preservation. This will guide the future search for biosignatures.