Using Organic Contaminants to Constrain the Terrestrial Journey of the Martian Meteorite LafayetteOPEN ACCESS 

Áine Clare O’Brien, Lydia Jane Hallis, Clement Regnault, Douglas Morrison, Gavin Blackburn, Andrew Steele, Luke Daly, Alastair Tait, Marissa Marie Tremblay, Darcy E.P. Telenko, Jacqueline Gunn, Eleanor McKay, Nicola Mari, Mohammad Ali Salik, Philippa Ascough, Jaime Toney, Sammy Griffin, Phil Whitfield, and Martin Lee

Volume 22, Number 11
Published Online: 19 Oct 2022


“A key part of the search for extraterrestrial life is the detection of organic molecules since these molecules form the basis of all living things on Earth. Instrument suites such as SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) onboard the NASA Perseverance rover and the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer onboard the future ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover are designed to detect organic molecules at the martian surface. However, size, mass, and power limitations mean that these instrument suites cannot yet match the instrumental capabilities available in Earth-based laboratories. Until Mars Sample Return, the only martian samples available for study on Earth are martian meteorites. This is a collection of largely basaltic igneous rocks that have been exposed to varying degrees of terrestrial contamination. The low organic molecule abundance within igneous rocks and the expectation of terrestrial contamination make the identification of martian organics within these meteorites highly challenging. The Lafayette martian meteorite exhibits little evidence of terrestrial weathering, potentially making it a good candidate for the detection of martian organics despite uncertainties surrounding its fall history. In this study, we used ultrapure solvents to extract organic matter from triplicate samples of Lafayette and analyzed these extracts via hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry (HILIC-MS). Two hundred twenty-four metabolites (organic molecules) were detected in Lafayette at concentrations more than twice those present in the procedural blanks. In addition, a large number of plant-derived metabolites were putatively identified, the presence of which supports the unconfirmed report that Lafayette fell in a semirural location in Indiana. Remarkably, the putative identification of the mycotoxin deoxynivalenol (or vomitoxin), alongside the report that the collector was possibly a student at Purdue University, can be used to identify the most likely fall year as 1919. “