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UVolution, a photochemistry experiment in low earth orbit: Investigation of the photostability of carbonates exposed to martian-like UV radiation conditions

  • Stalport, Fabien
  • Guan, Yuan Yong
  • Noblet, Audrey
  • Coll, Patrice
  • Szopa, Cyril
  • Macari, Frédérique
  • Person, Alain
  • Chaput, Didier
  • Raulin, François
  • Cottin, Hervé
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2010
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The detection and identification of carbonates on Mars are of prime importance to establish the evolution of its atmosphere, correlated to the history of the liquid water, or even to determine the existence of a possible ancient biological activity. To date, no large deposits of carbonates have been found. In fact, their detection is specific to local areas and in very low amounts. The absence of such deposits is commonly attributed to the harsh environmental conditions at the surface of Mars. Additionally, the presence of UV radiation has been proposed to explain their photodecomposition and hence their absence. However, contradictory results from laboratory experiments mimicking Mars' surface UV radiation did not resolve the behaviour of carbonates in such an environment, which is why we exposed, in low Earth orbit and in laboratory experiments, both abiotic and biotic calcium carbonates to UV radiation of wavelength above 200 nm, the same spectral distribution as the one reaching the surface of Mars. For low Earth orbit (LEO) exposure, this was done for the UVolution experiment on board the BIOPAN ESA module, which was set outside a Russian Foton automated capsule, and exposed to space conditions for 12 days in September 2007. The targeted carbonates are biominerals and abiotic samples. Our laboratory results mainly show that the exposed carbonates appear to be stable to UV radiation if directly exposed to it. The LEO experiment results tend to the same conclusion, but the integrated exposition time to Solar UV during the experiment is not sufficient to be conclusive. However, the stability of the biominerals derived from the laboratory experiment could strengthen the interest to explore deeper their potential as life records at Mars. Hence, they should be considered as primary targets for in situ analyses during future missions.

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