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Exploring the site of the ancient river delta, the Perseverance rover has collected some of the most important samples yet. his mission According to NASA scientists, determine whether there is life on Mars.
Several of the more recently collected samples include organic matter, possibly from the Jezero crater, which was once a lake and a delta draining into it. Potential habitat 3.5 billion years ago.
“The rocks we studied in the Delta have the highest concentrations of organic matter we’ve found on the mission,” said Ken Farley, Perseverance project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
The rover’s mission, which began 18 months ago on the Red Planet, includes searching for signs of ancient microbial life. It is endurance collecting rock samples that can there is preserved these narratives biosignatures There are currently 12 on the rover rock samples.
A number of missions were called Mars Pattern Return will eventually return the collection to Earth in the 2030s.
The site of the delta forms the 28-mile (45-kilometer) Jezero crater. Great interest of NASA scientists. A fan-shaped geological feature that once existed where a river meets a lake preserves layers of Martian history in sedimentary rock formed when particles coalesced in this previously water-filled environment.
The rover explored the crater floor and found evidence of igneous or volcanic rock. During its second campaign to explore the delta over the past five months, Perseverance found rich sedimentary rock layers that add more to the story of Mars’ ancient climate and environment.
“The delta with its various sedimentary rocks contrasts beautifully with the igneous rocks formed by the crystallization of magma found on the crater floor,” he said.
“This juxtaposition gives us a rich understanding of the geologic history since the formation of the crater and a diverse set of patterns. For example, we found sandstone carrying grains and rock fragments created far from the Jezero crater.”
The mission team nicknamed one of the rocks that Perseverance sampled as Wildcat Ridge. The rock probably formed after mud and sand evaporated and settled in a saltwater lake billions of years ago. The rover scraped the surface of the rock and analyzed it with Raman and an instrument known as Scanning Habitats for Organics and Chemicals, or SHERLOC.
Sunanda Sharma, a SHERLOC scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said this rock-smashing laser works like a gentle black light to detect chemicals, minerals and organic matter.
Analysis of the instrument revealed that the organic minerals are likely aromatics, or stable carbon and hydrogen molecules associated with sulfates. Sulfate minerals, often found trapped within layers of sedimentary rocks, preserve information about the aqueous environments in which they formed.
Organic molecules are of interest on Mars because they represent the building blocks of life, such as carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, as well as nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur. Not all organic molecules require life to form, as some can be created by chemical processes.
“Although the detection of this class of organic matter alone does not necessarily mean that life is there, this set of observations is beginning to resemble some of what we see on Earth,” Sharma said. “Simply put, if this is a treasure hunt for signs of potential life on another planet, organic matter is a clue. We’re getting stronger and stronger clues as we move forward in our delta campaign.”
Perseverance, as well as the Curiosity rover, have previously found organic matter on Mars. But this time, the discovery happened in an area where life could once have existed.
“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,” Farley said.
“The fact that organic matter is found in such a sedimentary rock is significant—it’s famous for preserving fossils of ancient life on Earth. However, as capable as our instruments aboard Perseverance are, further results related to those in the Wildcat Ridge sample will require in-depth study as part of the agency’s Mars Sample Return campaign. It will have to wait until it is returned to Earth.
The samples collected so far represent such a rich diversity from the main areas of the crater and delta that the Perseverance team is interested in depositing some of the collection tubes at a designated location on Mars in about two months, Farley said.
After the rover has downloaded the samples to this cache, it will continue to explore the delta.
Future missions could collect these samples and return them to Earth for analysis using the most sensitive and advanced instruments on the planet. Perseverance is unlikely to find indisputable evidence of life on Mars, Farley said, because the burden of proof for its creation on another planet is too high.
“I have studied the habitability and geology of Mars for much of my career, and I know firsthand the incredible scientific value of returning carefully collected Martian rocks to Earth,” Laurie Leshin, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. .
“It’s truly phenomenal that we’re weeks from depositing Perseverance’s stunning specimens and years from bringing them back to Earth so scientists can study them in exquisite detail. We will learn a lot.”
Some of the different rocks in the delta were about 65.6 feet (20 meters) apart, and each one tells a different story.
A patch of sandstone, called Skinner Ridge, is evidence of rocky material transported into the crater from hundreds of miles away, representing material the rover would not have been able to travel through during its mission. Wildcat Ridge, on the other hand, preserves evidence of clays and sulfates that have folded together and become rock.
Once the samples are in labs on Earth, they can reveal insights into potentially habitable Martian environments, such as chemistry, temperature and when material was deposited in the lake.
“I think it’s safe to say that these are the two most important samples we’ll collect on this mission,” said David Schuster, a Perseverance return sample scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.
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