Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

Living Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, William M. Irvine, Ricardo Amils, Henderson James Cleaves, Daniele Pinti, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Michel Viso

Nitrates on Mars

  • Daniela Tirsch
  • Alessandro Airo
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27833-4_5087-2


Nitrates are salts of the nitric acid (HNO3). It has been estimated that one quarter of the initial Martian atmospheric molecular nitrogen today is fixed in the form of nitrates in the soil. A possible formation process of these nitrates is the dissociation of the atmospheric molecular nitrogen through shock heating caused by impacts or through photochemical reactions (Smith et al. 2014). Nitrates are highly soluble in water, hence nitrates entrained in the Martian cryosphere may contribute to the generation of brines near the surface. Because nitrates are a fundamental source of nitrogen for life on Earth, the detection of nitrates on Mars is an important parameter for the assessment of potential habitable environments. Recent analyses of “Rocknest” sand samples at Gale crater by the NASA rover “Curiosity” tentatively indicate the presence of nitrates.

See Also


Nitric Acid Bioorganic Chemistry Formation Process Recent Analysis Photochemical Reaction 
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References and Further Reading

  1. Smith ML, Claire MW, Catling DC, Zahnle KJ (2014) The formation of sulfate, nitrate and perchlorate salts in the Martian atmosphere. Icarus 231:51–64CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.German Aerospace Center DLRInstitute of Planetary ResearchBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Institut für Geologische Wissenschaften Tektonik und Sedimentäre GeologieFreie Universität Berlin, Fachbereich GeowissenschaftenBerlinGermany