220-EPN2-85: Preservation of Organic Matter in Paleo-Mega Lakes: Implications for Martian Biosignatures
Visit by Charlotte Spencer-Jones, Durham University, (UK) to TA1.5 Makgadikgadi Salt Pans (Botswana).
Dates of visit: 20-29 April 2022
The geological history of Mars indicates that this planet has transitioned between conditions that
could have supported life. Extensive fluvial features on the Martian surface provides evidence for
the presence of water in Martian history and suggests that Mars may have been habitable during
the Noachian period (4.1-3.7 Ga). Therefore, establishing a suite of relevant and robust
biosignatures diagnostic for past life remains one of the key methods for detecting extinct Martian
lifeforms. Organic compounds are the fundamental building blocks of all terrestrial life and are
widespread throughout the solar system with structurally diverse organic compounds detected in
a range of extra-terrestrial samples.
The main aims of this fieldwork campaign (20-EPN2-085) were to collect a range of samples,
including sediments, biofilms, and salts from the Makgadikgadi basin with accompanying physical
data from the basin. The second phase of this study will characterise organic compounds within
the samples. The outcome of this work will be to establish the key parameters that control organic
compound preservation within Martian analogue environments. These results will determine
biosignatures that could be identified during future Mars missions (e.g. ExoMars 2020) and thus
highlight the mineralogies present that have the highest preservation potential for biosignatures.
Read the full report, published with kind permission by Dr Spencer-Jones.