The solar system contains large quantities of organic compounds that can form complex molecular structures. The processing of organic compounds by biological systems leads to molecules with distinctive structural characteristics; thus, the detection and characterization of organic materials could lead to a high degree of confidence in the existence of extra-terrestrial life. Given the nature of the surface of most planetary bodies in the solar system, evidence of life is more likely to be found in the subsurface where conditions are more hospitable. Basalt is a common rock throughout the solar system and the primary rock type on Mars and Earth. Basalt is therefore a rock type that subsurface life might exploit and as such a suitable material for the study of methods required to detect and analyze organic material in rock. Telluric basalts from Earth represent an analog for extra-terrestrial rocks where the indigenous organic matter could be analyzed for molecular biosignatures. This study focuses on organic matter in the basalt with the use of surface analysis techniques utilizing Ar gas cluster ion beams (GCIB); time of flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS), and x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), to characterize organic molecules. Tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH) thermochemolysis was also used to support the data obtained using the surface analysis techniques. The authors demonstrate that organic molecules were found to be heterogeneously distributed within rock textures. A positive correlation was observed to exist between the presence of microtubule textures in the basalt and the organic compounds detected. From the results herein, the authors propose that ToF-SIMS with an Ar GCIB is effective at detecting organic materials in such geological samples, and ToF-SIMS combined with XPS and TMAH thermochemolysis may be a useful approach in the study of extra-terrestrial organic material and life.

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