Organic molecules on Mars!
The combination of the SAM pyrolysis and gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (GCMS) systems led to the first detection and identification of organic molecules indigenous to a martian sample. At the Cumberland drill hole in the Yellowknife Bay formation, SAM scientists reported the discovery of chlorobenzene (a six carbon ring with a chlorine atom) and chlorinated two to four-carbon chains (dichloroalkanes). These organic molecules are thought to be products of reaction between perchlorates or other oxychlorine salts and more complex organic material preserved in surface rocks over geological timescales. The origin of the organic material remains unknown and may be exogenous (from meteorites or interplanetary dust particles), or internal to Mars from hydrothermal activity or even biological activity. This detection opens up the habitability of Gale Crater to another level where the building blocks of life were present on the red planet at the time liquid water was flowing and at the time life appeared on the Earth. These measurements represent the first detection on Mars of indigenous organic compounds in surface rocks and addressed a long standing objective of the Mars exploration program.
The Freissinet et al. ": Organic molecules in the Sheepbed Mudstone, Gale Crater, Mars" paper which made the cover of the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets journal is available in open access here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014JE004737/full.