NASA scientists said Thursday that the Mars Perseverance rover has found biologically interesting rocks at the bottom of an ancient lake that could indicate the presence of microbial life on the Red Planet billions of years ago.
After launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in July 2020, NASA successfully landed its second rover, the Persevere, on the surface of Mars in February 2021. Along the flight was a 4-pound helicopter called Ingenuity that was a resounding success that demonstrated that controlled flights It could be made on Mars.
Since landing, Percy has been touring the site of an ancient, dry Martian river delta known as Jezero Crater. The robot contains seven scientific instruments, including cameras and two microphones recorded Wind sounds on Mars and his fall.
On Thursday, mission managers provided an update on what the rover discovered while exploring 8 miles of Jezero crater. The area was likely a lake more than 3.5 billion years ago, which is why NASA landed the rover there, to search an ancient habitable environment for evidence of life.
“This mission is not looking for things that are in life that are still alive today,” said Ken Farley, a project scientist for perseverance. “Instead, we’re looking at a very distant past when the climate of Mars was very different from what it is today, and it was more favorable for life.”
At more than 550 Mars days, or Mars days, Farley said persistence has found the history of the crater floor to be more complex than expected. Based on the findings of ingenious boulders formed from volcanic activity, the science team now believes that before the lake bed was retained, the crater had active volcanic activity, even a lava lake.
The rocks you’re excited about: Wildcat Ridge and Skinner Ridge
Scientists said that many of the rock samples collected from Mars contain organic molecules associated with life. Two rock samples, in particular, were collected from rocks the team named Wildcat Ridge and Skinner Ridge, much to the scientific team’s excitement. The stones are named after trails in Shenandoah National Park.
The rocks, which are about 66 feet (20 meters) apart, provided very diverse samples, but each has a high scientific value, said David Schuster, a perseverance sample return scientist. However, both samples have one thing in common.
“Both rocks consist of sediments that have been carried away by liquid water,” Schuster said, adding that both rocks have experienced water-related changes. “Thus, these rocks formed and recorded indicators of a habitable environment.”
Using a rover tool called the Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals Survey, or SHERLOC, to analyze the area where the rover collected samples, the team found the highest concentration of organic matter yet during the mission. Organic matter, which are the building blocks of life, can be created by processes that involve life but also by other conditions, such as geological activity, that do not involve life.
“If this treasure hunt is for possible signs of life on another planet, then organic matter is key,” said Sherlock’s persistent hardware scientist Sunanda Sharma. “And we’re getting stronger and stronger evidence as we move into our delta expedition.” “Personally, I find these results very impressive because it seems that we are in the right place with the right tools at a very pivotal moment.”
The samples are about the size of a pinky and are stored in tubes until a follow-up mission to pick up Martian rocks can persist in the 2030s.
What awaits us? Crucial Automated Delivery
The rover’s biggest mission is yet to come.
Perseverance continues to sample core rocks and explore potential sample landing sites for the robotic sample return task.
To return the first samples from Mars to Earth, NASA and the European Space Agency have a detailed plan that includes a fleet of robots, including a rover, a new Mars lander, a sample-picking spacecraft and two small helicopters.
The two space agencies have streamlined the mission of the original Mars sample return campaign, removing a sample from the rover and its associated lander. NASA and ESA administrators said they changed the plan due to the longevity of the perseverance, and the success of the Ibdaa helicopter, which has now completed 29 flights to Mars.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said the plan has always been to have two methods of returning samples to Earth, using Perseverance or another rover for delivery.
Instead of an additional rover, the plan is to use two small helicopters as a backup option and Percy as the base option. The rover is the primary means of bringing samples to the Sample Retrieval Lander, which will carry the Mars Ascent Rover and the European Space Agency’s robotic transport arm.
Percy will also deposit a sample cache in the river delta as an “insurance policy” option before moving on to the older terrain on Mars. Future missions could capture those samples.
The ultimate goal is to return the first Martian soil and rock samples to Earth for detailed analysis.
Sharma said that returning the rock cores to Earth is the surest way to confirm the organic matter that the science team believes they have found in the Martian rock samples.
“Obviously the instruments we have on the rover are extraordinary, and the fact that we can make these observations of organic molecules on Mars, to begin with, is fascinating,” Sharma said. “But the level of detail spatially is what will be different here on Earth.”
What the rover has found so far tells the team that they have chosen the right place on Mars to explore, said Laurie Glaese, chief of NASA’s planetary science division.
“The entire body of work that this amazing perseverance team has completed so far tells me that we have not only gone to the right place, but sent the right spacecraft with the right scientific instruments to explore this amazing ancient environment on Mars,” Glaze said.
Over the next few months, the Perseverance will explore an area known as the Enchanted Lake to collect more samples.
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