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Published Online: 3 October 2022

Deep-UV Raman Spectroscopy of Carbonaceous Precambrian Microfossils: Insights into the Search for Past Life on Mars

Publication: Astrobiology
Volume 22, Issue Number 10

Abstract

The current strategy for detecting evidence of ancient life on Mars—a primary goal of NASA's ongoing Mars 2020 mission—is based largely on knowledge of Precambrian life and of its preservation in Earth's early rock record. The fossil record of primitive microorganisms consists mainly of stromatolites and other microbially influenced sedimentary structures, which occasionally preserve microfossils or other geochemical traces of life. Raman spectroscopy is an invaluable tool for identifying such signs of life and is routinely performed on Precambrian microfossils to help establish their organic composition, degree of thermal maturity, and biogenicity. The Mars 2020 rover, Perseverance, is equipped with a deep-ultraviolet (UV) Raman spectrometer as part of the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) instrument, which will be used in part to characterize the preservation of organic matter in the ancient sedimentary rocks of Jezero crater and therein search for possible biosignatures. To determine the deep-UV Raman spectra characteristic of ancient microbial fossils, this study analyzes individual microfossils from 14 Precambrian cherts using deep-UV (244 nm) Raman spectroscopy. Spectra obtained were measured and calibrated relative to a graphitic standard and categorized according to the morphology and depositional environment of the fossil analyzed and its Raman-indicated thermal maturity. All acquired spectra of the fossil kerogens include a considerably Raman-enhanced and prominent first-order Raman G-band (∼1600 cm−1), whereas its commonly associated D-band (∼1350 cm−1) is restricted to specimens of lower thermal maturity (below greenschist facies) that thus have the less altered biosignature indicative of relatively well-preserved organic matter. If comparably preserved, similar characteristics would be expected to be exhibited by microfossils or ancient organic matter in rock samples collected and cached on Mars in preparation for future sample return to Earth.

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Associate Editor: Christopher McKay

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Published In

cover image Astrobiology
Astrobiology
Volume 22Issue Number 10October 2022
Pages: 1239 - 1254
PubMed: 36194869

History

Published online: 3 October 2022
Published in print: October 2022
Published ahead of print: 16 September 2022
Accepted: 1 August 2022
Received: 17 August 2021

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Authors

Affiliations

Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA.
Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life, University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA.
J. William Schopf
Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA.
Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life, University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA.
Anatoliy B. Kudryavtsev
Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA.
Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life, University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA.
Andrew D. Czaja
Department of Geology, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.
Kenneth H. Williford
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.

Notes

Address correspondence to: Jeffrey T. Osterhout, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109, USA [email protected]

Author Disclosure Statement

No competing financial interests exist.

Funding Information

This research was supported by the JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) Visiting Student Researchers Program, and funding was provided by the UCLA Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life.

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