Discriminating organic carbon from endokarsthic moonmilk-type deposits by LIBS. The case of a natural carbonated martian analogue

T. Delgado, L. García-Gómez, F.J. Fortes, L.M. Cabalín, C. Liñán, I. Vadillo, P. Jiménez-Gavilán, L. Ojeda, J.J. Laserna, Talanta, 2024, 271, 125639


Moonmilk-type deposits exemplify carbonated Martian analogues existing in the subsurface of Earth, an endokarstic speleothem with a possible biochemical origin composed principally by carbonates, mainly huntite and dolomite. In this work, samples of moonmilk located in Nerja Cave (southern Spain) have been studied by LIBS with the aim of identifying carbon of biogenic origin by establishing a relationship between a molecular emission indicator, CN signal, and the organic carbon content. The characterization of this kind of carbonate deposit with a multiple mineralogical composition has been completed using scanning electron microscopy (SEM), energy dispersive X-ray (EDX) and X-ray diffraction techniques for qualitative and semi-quantitative analysis. The information attained from LIBS regarding energy thresholds and time-resolved kinetics of CN emissions provides useful insight into the identification of different molecular emitters, namely organic and inorganic CN, depending on the laser irradiance and time settings conditions. These promising results are of application in the search and identification of biosignatures in upcoming planetary missions with astrobiological purposes.


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