The Laser-Induced Remote Sensing for Chemistry and Micro-Imaging instrument identifies atomic elements in Martian rocks. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/J.-L. Lacour, CEA

Boron has been discovered on Mars, a clue to the potential development of both RNA and life, on the red planet.

The discovery is reported in a paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters today.

“We detected borates in a crater on Mars that 3.8 billion years old, younger than the likely formation of life on Earth,” said Patrick Gasda, lead author, a postdoctoral researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “Essentially, this tells us that the conditions from which life could have potentially grown may have existed on ancient Mars, independent from Earth.”

The discovery of the fifth element was made by the Curiosity rover and its futuristic ChemCam, which was devised by Los Alamos scientists, along with scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and others.

The ChemCam essentially focuses a laser on Martian surfaces, vaporizing them, and then measures the plasma light in three spectrographs to analyze the chemical composition of the material.

The born was found in mineral veins primarily made of calcium sulfate.

That location also means the boron is present in groundwater in the Gale Crater, the researchers report in their paper. The discovery is also another indication that the groundwater is habitable in both temperature and acidity, the authors add.

Their theory is that the complex groundwater system in the lunar landscape would have promoted probiotic chemical reactions between borates and organics present there.

Since boron dissolved in water reacts with ribose to make a stable building block for RNA, this could be a vital clue to the possible story of life on the moon – if there ever was any, they conclude.

“Borates are one possible bridge from simple organic molecules to RNA. Without RNA, you have no life,” concluded Gasda. “The presence of boron tells us that, if organics were present on Mars, these chemical reactions could have occurred.”