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Mars Perseverance Rover finds organic matter in rock

Mars Perseverance Rover finds organic matter in rock
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This is part of the story Welcome to Marsour series exploring the red planet.

In just a year and a half on Mars NASA‘s Perseverance rover completely botched its science mission. The agency held a briefing Thursday to discuss mission highlights so far, and it was a celebration of the discovery of rock samples and organic matter.

Organic molecules at Wildcat Ridge

Wildcat Ridge, a rock located in the ancient river delta region of Jezero Crater, was one of the stars of the show. Percy successfully collected two samples of mudstone. Wildcat Ridge is particularly exciting because the organic molecules (called aromatics) found there are considered a potential biosignature, which NASA describes as a substance or structure that could be evidence of past life but was produced without the presence of life.

The rover team emphasized that the discovery of organic matter does not mean that it has found evidence of ancient life. Organic molecules have been discovered on Mars before Area of ‚Äč‚Äčinterest in Gale Crater also with determination, which found carbon-containing molecules earlier in the mission.

Perseverance collected two core samples from Wildcat Ridge and also eroded a circular patch to examine the rock with the Sherlock tool.

NASA, JPL-Caltech, ASU, MSSS

The rover’s Sherlock instrument examined the rock. (Sherloc stands for Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals.) “In its analysis at Wildcat Ridge, the Sherlock instrument recorded the most abundant organic detections of the mission to date,” NASA said.

Scientists see familiar signs in their analysis of Wildcat Ridge. “In the distant past, the sand, mud, and salts that now make up the Wildcat Ridge pattern were deposited under conditions where life could potentially thrive.” Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley said in his statement. “The fact that organic matter is found in such a sedimentary rock is important – it is famous for preserving the remains of ancient life on Earth.”

Perseverance is not equipped to find conclusive evidence of ancient microbial life on the red planet. “The reality is that the burden of proof for establishing life on another planet is very, very high,” Farley said during a press conference. To do this, we need to study Martian rocks up close and personal in Earth laboratories.

Sample drop

Percy currently has 12 rock samples on board, including pieces from Wildcat Ridge and samples from another sedimentary delta rock called Skinner Ridge. He also collected igneous rock samples early in the mission, indicating the impact of long-ago volcanic activity in the crater.

NASA is so pleased with the variety of samples collected that it is looking to soon release some of the filled tubes to the surface in preparation for the future. Mars Pattern Return (MSR) campaign. MSR is an ambitious plan to send a lander to Mars, collect Percy’s samples, rocket them off the surface, and return them to Earth for close-up study. The mission is under development. If all goes as planned, these rocks could be here by 2033.

The complexity and importance of the MSR means that NASA and its partners are working on ways to ensure the collection of samples. It is hoped that Perseverance will still be in good working order until the MSR lander arrives and will be able to rendezvous with it and deliver the samples in person. Leaving some samples on Earth in a cache in the crater at the start of the mission will give the MSR one more opportunity to get the precious rocks on board.

Percy collects paired specimens. For example, it can keep one Wildcat Ridge tube on deck and land another. “We’ve spent weeks deploying Perseverance’s fascinating specimens and several years to bring them back to Earth so scientists can study them in fine detail,” said Laurie Leshin, NASA’s JPL director. “We will learn a lot.”

What’s next for Percy?

As exciting as Delta is, the rover team is looking forward to the adventures that lie beyond. Persistence can wander around the edge of the crater, with the team looking at several possible routes to climb. His companion Invention helicopter is in good health and expected to fly again.

NASA chose Jezero Crater for exploration because of its interesting water history and how the rocks there might have preserved evidence of ancient life if Mars had existed during more habitable times. Sherlock scientist Sunanda Sharma likened the mission to a treasure hunt for organic life on another planet, and said samples containing aromatics were a clue. The mystery of Mars is just beginning to unravel.

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