Evidence for the protection of N-heterocycles from gamma radiation by Mars analogue minerals

1,2Gözen Ertem,3Daniel P.Glavin,4Robert P.Volpe,5Christopher P.McKay
Icarus (in Press) Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2021.114540]
1SETI Institute, Carl Sagan Center, Mountain View, CA 94043, USA
2Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA
3NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Solar System Exploration Division, Greenbelt, MD, USA
4Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD 20814, USA
5Space Science Division, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA 94035, USA
Copyright Elsevier

Organic compounds have been delivered to the surface of Mars via meteorites, comets and interplanetary dust particles for billions of years. Determining the effects of high energy radiation and galactic cosmic radiation (GCR) on these organic compounds is critical for understanding the potential for the preservation of organic molecules associated with past or present life, and where to look for possible chemical bio- signatures during future Mars missions. Understanding how these effects are attenuated by the mineral matrix and the depth at which they are buried have been challenging to determine in situ on Mars. There have been very few experimental studies on the survival of organic compounds under radiation from a gamma source under realistic conditions, and their interpretation until now has been difficult due to the lack of data for actual radiation levels on Mars. Using the in-situ data obtained by the MSL/RAD instrument to anchor the dose calculations, here we show that the N-heterocycles purine and uracil, crucial components of biochemical processes in extant living systems, mixed with calcite, anhydrite, and kaolinite as Mars analogue minerals can survive the effects of radiation with a dose corresponding to ~500,000 years on Martian surface. The extent of survival varied not only with the nature of the organic compound, but its depth from the surface. These results provide new experimental data for the degree of protection offered by the regolith, in conjunction with minerals, for organic compounds that may be present on Mars.

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