The Search for Life on Mars - Preparation for Sample Return
Sammanfattning: The purpose of the thesis work has been to develop methods and concepts to aid in the search, detection and assessment of ancient microfossils here on Earth as a guide to the search for ancient life on Mars. The intention has been to identify and characterize environments on Earth that may be considered analogous to Martian environments and in which fossil preservation is expected to be good, and to develop and apply methods to characterize the isotopic and chemical composition of possible traces of life in order to assess their biogenicity and biological affinities.An investigation of the Siljan impact structure, Sweden, demonstrated that niches for thermophilic organisms were created in the associated hydrothermal system. The temperature regimes were favorable for thermophilic life in the outer parts of the structure during the early and main stages of the hydrothermal system, but that these niches moved toward the center of the crater during the final cooling stages. It was demonstrated that the hydrothermal system contains traces of a thermophilic microbial community, represented by fossilized extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). Given the presence of water on Mars, similar impact-induced hydrothermal systems were probably generated on Mars as well. These regions, like those at Siljan, may have supported hyperthermophilic microbial communities on the red planet, emphasizing the relevance of searching for impact-induced hydrothermal deposits for evidence of microbial life on Mars.A method for the determination of stable carbon isotopes with high lateral resolution of TEM (transmission electron microscopy) samples has been developed. The method is based on alpha-particle Rutherford backscattering (RBS), it is non-destructive, and therefore suitable for analysis of extraterrestrial and other rare or irreplaceable material. Also, a novel concept to extract fluid inclusions without ablating the sample has been proposed, and a proof-of-concept has been demonstrated. The purpose is to analyze organic biomarkers trapped in fluid inclusions without risking contamination, and also to extract and analyze single fluid inclusions. The minimized contamination risk and the potential to extract single fluid inclusions could make the method a useful tool in the search for organic biomarkers in early-Earth material, and eventually, in samples returned from Mars.
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