NASA’s Perseverance rover is investigating signs of ancient life on Mars and has now collected some of the Red Planet’s most promising samples yet.
According to NASA, several rock samples containing organic matter were found in Jezero Crater, a 45-mile-wide crater where scientists say there was once a river delta that formed about 3.5 billion years ago.
“Jezero was selected for this mission because… it allows us to explore an ancient habitable environment (and) it allows us to look for evidence of possible Martin life in rocks that were deposited at the time, about 3 and half a billion years ago,” perseverance project scientist Ken Farley said in a: recorded panel on the rover’s findings.
“I want to emphasize that this mission is not looking for existing life, for things that are alive today. Instead, we are looking at the very distant past, when the climate of Mars was very different than it is today,” Farley added. .
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Perseverance was launched in July 2020 and landed in Jezero Crater in February 2021. Since July 7 this year, NASA says, the rover has collected four samples from the delta, bringing the total number of “scientifically convincing rock samples” collected to 12.
Mars rocks with organic matter
Perseverance is currently studying the sedimentary rocks of the delta. The rover previously explored the bottom of Jezero Crater and found igneous rocks. The contrast of the two “provides us with a rich understanding of the geologic history after the crater’s formation and a diverse array of samples,” Farley said in a press release.
For example, the project scientist pointed to a collected mud rock containing “intriguing organic compounds.”
Using an instrument called Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals, or SHERLOC, organic molecules were found in “Wildcat Ridge,” a 10-foot-wide rock believed to have formed with mud and fine sand in an evaporating saltwater lake billions of years ago.
“Obviously, we’re uncovering a bigger story than what’s happening at Jezero Crater. We’ve found signals that we think may have come from organic matter on every target we’ve observed with SHERLOC so far,” said Sunanda Sharma, SHERLOC scientist, said in the panel.
Sharma added that this was not “unexpected”, as it ties in with previous research. “However, it does say that organics seem to persist in the very harsh surface environment of Mars, which is very exciting for us.”
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According to NASA, Curiosity Mars rover found evidence of organic matter in rock powder samples earlier in 2013. exist in the distant past, scientists say.
“The fact that the organic matter was found in such a sedimentary rock — known for preserving fossils of ancient life here on Earth — is important,” Farley said.
“As capable as our instruments aboard Perseverance are, further conclusions about what’s inside the Wildcat Ridge sample will have to wait until it’s returned to Earth for in-depth study as part of (NASA and European Space Agency’s) Mars Sample Return campaign.”