Authors: Sydney Shaner, Amy Williams, Guangsheng Zhuang
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Amy Williams
College: College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Analog sites on Earth provide us with settings to test astrobiological techniques in pursuit of life on other worlds. In this study, the focus is Qaidam Basin located in China, a hyperarid analog for Gale Crater, Mars. Because of the hyperaridity of Qaidam Basin, complex molecules such as lipids that would be indicative of fossilized life have high preservation potential. We use flash pyrolysis, trimethylsulfonium hydroxide (TMSH) injection, and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to analyze clays for their organics composition and preservation. With C19 as a standard, alkanes C4 – C26 and the alkene C12:1 were produced by flash pyrolysis. With the addition of C19 and TMSH standards, the fatty acid methyl esters C4, C5, C6, C7¬, C8, C9, C10, C11, C12, C14, and C18¬ were produced by flash pyrolysis. We report that this method of analyzing organics preservation is fruitful in a Mars analog and can be applied to the in situ analysis done by the NASA Sample Analysis at Mars instrument suite aboard the Curiosity rover in future missions to detect possible life.