Nitrogen is the second most abundant constituent of the Martian atmosphere, after CO2, present at a level of ca. 2.7 percent. Several authors have hypothesized that earlier in the planet's history, nitrogen was more abundant, but has been removed by processes such as exospheric loss from the atmosphere. However, an alternative sink for atmospheric nitrogen is the regolith; model calculations have predicted that, via the formation of NOx, HNO2 and HNO3 in the lower layers of the Martian atmosphere, the regolith might trap nitrite and nitrate anions, leading to the build-up of involatile nitrates. Integrated over 4.5 x 10(exp 9) yr, such a mechanism would contribute the equivalent of a layer of nitrates up to 0.3 cm thick distributed across the Martian surface. Features in thermal emission spectra of the surface of Mars have been interpreted tentatively as emanating from various anions (carbonates, bicarbonates, sulphates, etc.), and the presence of nitrates has also been addressed as a possibility. The identification of carbonates in SCN meteorites has allowed inferences to be drawn concerning the composition and evolution of the Martian atmosphere in terms of its carbon isotope systematics; if nitrites, nitrates, or other nitrogen-bearing salts could be isolated from SNC's, similar conclusions might be possible for an analogous nitrogen cycle. Nitrates are unstable, being readily soluble in water, and decomposed at temperatures between 50 C and 600 C, depending on composition. Any nitrates present in SNC's might be removed during ejection from the planet's surface, passage to Earth, or during the sample's terrestrial history, by weathering etc. The same might have been said for carbonates, but pockets of shock-produced glass (lithology C) from within the EET A79001 shergottite and bulk samples of other SNC contain this mineral, which did apparently survive. Nitrates occurring within the glassy melt pockets of lithology C in EET A79001 might likewise be protected. Lithology C glass was therefore selected for nitrate analysis, first by non-destructive infra red spectroscopy, and then by stepped combustion.
LUNAR AND PLANETARY EXPLORATION
Lunar and Planetary Inst., Twenty-Fourth Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. Part 2: G-M; p 553-554