News Default Solar Photolysis: A Clue to Martian Organic Matter
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Organic matter

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Solar Photolysis: A Clue to Martian Organic Matter

Organic matter found in early Martian sediment holds valuable insights into the planet’s environmental conditions, prebiotic chemistry, and habitability. Recent observations by the Curiosity rover at Gale crater revealed strong 13C depletion in sedimentary organic matter. While the origin of this enigmatic depletion remains debated, our study proposes a plausible mechanism.

CO2 Photolysis in a Reducing Atmosphere

Through CO2 photolysis experiments and theoretical considerations, we demonstrate that solar ultraviolet photolysis of CO2 in a reducing atmosphere can yield strongly 13C-depleted CO. This process may explain the source of isotopically depleted organic matter in early Martian sediments.

Implications for Early Mars

Our findings suggest that considerable amounts of organic matter may have been synthesized from CO in the early Martian atmosphere and deposited in sediments. This has implications for understanding the planet's habitability, prebiotic chemistry, and the search for life beyond Earth.

Mass Balance Model

Using our estimated isotopic fractionation factor, we calculate that approximately 20% of volcanic CO2 emissions on early Mars could have converted into organics via CO. This finding aligns with available data on carbon isotopes of carbonate.

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