Experimental determination of photostability and fluorescence-based detection of PAHs on the Martian surface

Dartnell, Lewis R.; Patel, Manish R.; Storrie-Lombardi, Michael C.; Ward, John M. and Muller, Jan-Peter (2012). Experimental determination of photostability and fluorescence-based detection of PAHs on the Martian surface. Meteoritics & Planetary Science, 47(5) pp. 806–819.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1945-5100.2012.01351.x


Even in the absence of any biosphere on Mars, organic molecules, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are expected on its surface due to delivery by comets and meteorites of extraterrestrial organics synthesized by astrochemistry, or perhaps in situ synthesis in ancient prebiotic chemistry. Any organic compounds exposed to the unfiltered solar ultraviolet spectrum or oxidizing surface conditions would have been readily destroyed, but discoverable caches of Martian organics may remain shielded in the subsurface or within surface rocks. We have studied the stability of three representative polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in a Mars chamber, emulating the ultraviolet spectrum of unfiltered sunlight under temperature and pressure conditions of the Martian surface. Fluorescence spectroscopy is used as a sensitive indicator of remaining PAH concentration for laboratory quantification of molecular degradation rates once exposed on the Martian surface. Fluorescence-based instrumentation has also been proposed as an effective surveying method for prebiotic organics on the Martian surface. We find the representative PAHs, anthracene, pyrene, and perylene, to have persistence half-lives once exposed on the Martian surface of between 25 and 60 h of noontime summer UV irradiation, as measured by fluorescence at their peak excitation wavelength. This equates to between 4 and 9.6 sols when the diurnal cycle of UV light intensity on the Martian surface is taken into account, giving a substantial window of opportunity for detection of organic fluorescence before photodegradation. This study thus supports the use of fluorescence-based instrumentation for surveying recently exposed material (such as from cores or drill tailings) for native Martian organic molecules in rover missions.

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