Multi-analytical characterization of an oncoid from a high-altitude hypersaline lake using techniques employed in the Mars 2020 and Rosalind Franklin missions on Mars

J. Huidobro, J.M. Madariaga, D. Carrizo, J.J. Laserna, F. Rull, J. Martínez-Frías, J. Aramendia, L Sánchez-García, L. García-Gómez, M. Veneranda, I. Población, L.M. Cabalín, G. López-Reyes, L. Coloma, LC. García-Florentino, G. Arana, K. Castro, T. Delgado, C. Álvarez, F.J. Fortes, J. Manrique, and the SIGUE-MARS team, Analytica Chimica Acta, 2023, 1276, 341632


In this work, a geological sample of great astrobiological interest was studied through analytical techniques thatare currently operating in situ on Mars and others that will operate in the near future. The sample analyzed consisted of an oncoid, which is a type of microbialite, collected in the Salar Carachi Pampa, Argentina. The main peculiarity of microbialites is that they are organo-sedimentary deposits formed by the in situ fixation and precipitation of calcium carbonate due to the growth and metabolic activities of microorganisms. For this reason, the Carachi Pampa oncoid was selected as a Martian analog for astrobiogeochemistry study. In this sense, the sample was characterized by means of the PIXL-like, SuperCam-like and SHERLOC-like instruments, which represent instruments on board the NASA Perseverance rover, and by means of RLS-like and MOMA-like in-struments, which represent instruments on board the future ESA Rosalind Franklin rover. It was possible to verify that the most important conclusions and discoveries have been obtained from the combination of the results. Likewise, it was also shown that Perseverance rover-like remote-sensing instruments allowed a first detailed characterization of the biogeochemistry of the Martian surface. With this first characterization, areas of interest for in-depth analysis with Rosalind Franklin-like instruments could be identified. Therefore, from a first remote-sensing elemental identification (PIXL-like instrument), followed by a remote-sensing molecular characterization (SuperCam and SHERLOC-like instruments) and ending with an in-depth microscopic analysis (RLS and MOMA-
like instruments), a wide variety of compounds were found. On the one hand, the expected minerals were carbonates, such as aragonite, calcite and high-magnesium calcite. On the other hand, unexpected compounds consisted of minerals related to the Martian/terrestrial surface (feldspars, pyroxenes, hematite) and organic compounds related to the past biological activity related to the oncoid (kerogen, lipid biomarkers and carotenes). Considering samples resembling microbialites have already been found on Mars and that one of the main ob-jectives of the missions is to identify traces of past life, the study of microbialites is a potential way to find biosignatures protected from the inhospitable Martian environment. In addition, it should be noted that in this work, further conclusions have been obtained through the study of the results as a whole, which could also be carried out on Mars.

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