NASA's Perseverance Mars rover hits paydirt looking for clues to a possible past life

from NASA Mars Rover Perseverance collected and stored rock samples composed of minerals and organic compounds that, on Earth, would ...


from NASA Mars Rover Perseverance collected and stored rock samples composed of minerals and organic compounds that, on Earth, would likely preserve traces of past microbial life, researchers said Thursday. Soil samples were collected at the base of an ancient river delta that spread from the edge of the Jezero Crater.

But to find out whether such “potential biosignatures” include actual traces of past life on Mars, scientists will have to wait for a NASA-European Space Agency mission later in the decade to collect them and bring them back to Earth for information. detailed. laboratory analysis.

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Two areas at the base of an ancient delta within Jezero Crater on Mars, where the Perseverance rover collected samples that may contain traces of past microbial life. To find out one way or another, NASA and the European Space Agency plan to retrieve the rover samples and return them to Earth for analysis in the early 2030s.

NASA/JPL-Caltech


“The samples that we collected as we present here today … have ingredients for life in terms of the environmental environment,” said David Shuster, a return sample scientist at the University of California’s Perseverance.

The material was long ago transported to Jezero Crater by water and deposited in a 40-kilometer wide lake with fine particles that settled amid phases of evaporation — factors that combine to “have high potential for biosignature preservation.” .

“If these conditions had existed, I think, pretty much anywhere on Earth at any point in time in the last three and a half billion years, I think it’s safe to say, or at least assume, that biology would have done its job. left its mark on these rocks for us to observe.

“And that’s why we’re so excited to be able to address these issues by returning these samples to labs here on Earth,” Shuster said. “We have all the right ingredients here.”

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Core samples collected by the Perseverance rover before the rocks were sealed in tubes to await collection and return to Earth in the early 2030s for detailed laboratory analysis.

NASA/JPL-Caltech


The $2.4 billion Perseverance rover landed in Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021, and has spent the past 18 months working towards the base of a fan-shaped delta cutting the rim where water once entered to fill a wide, now-vanished pool the size of Lake Tahoe.

Perseverance is equipped with a suite of sophisticated instruments designed to study ancient lake bed deposits, looking for traces of past microbial life that may have filtered through to be preserved in what are now layers of sedimentary rock.

In addition to giving scientists the opportunity to remotely survey Jezero’s rocks and sandy soil, Perseverance is also equipped with a complex collection and caching mechanism that can store over 40 soil samples and rock cores, sealing them. in small, environmentally sealed tubes to await transport back to Earth.

If all goes well, a joint sample return mission being developed by NASA and the European Space Agency will either land another spacecraft near Perseverance around 2030 and collect the rover’s stored samples or use two small helicopters to pick up tubes of Perseverance sample will have fallen to the surface.

The samples will be loaded onto a small rocket and launched into Mars orbit, where they will be captured by another spacecraft and returned to Earth for analysis to determine if any of the “potential biosignatures” are actual traces of past microbial life.

“The return of the sample from Mars is perhaps the best chance to answer a very deep question: are we alone in the universe?” said Sunanda Sharma, a researcher at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who works with one of the rover’s instruments.


Perseverance explores the Jezero Crater Delta per
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory about
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Perseverance has been operating almost flawlessly since its landing 559 days ago on Mars. In an initial surprise, the rover found igneous rock well away from the rim of Jezero Crater, where scientists had expected to find sedimentary layers on the lake bed.

“What we find are igneous rocks, rocks that have been crystallized from melting,” said project scientist Ken Farley. “This crater not only held the lake in one spot, but before that, probably before that, it also had active volcanism and possibly even a lava lake filling this crater.”

After taking samples of the igneous deposits, which will allow scientists to determine the age of the formations, Perseverance headed to the base of the delta and found the sedimentary deposits he was looking for.

“This particular area has probably the most scientific value for exploration of the entire mission,” Farley said. “This is the place that brought us to Jezero Crater. This is the place where we have the best chance to explore these ancient sedimentary rocks deposited in the lake.”

The rocks there “have been deposited in a potentially habitable environment … and we’ve been looking for potential biosignatures.”

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The Perseverance rover’s 8-mile journey from landing on the floor of Jezero Crater to its current location at the base of an ancient delta.

NASA/JPL-Caltech


But he quickly warned that “a potential biosignature is something that could have been produced by life, but could also have been produced in the absence of life. The key point about a potential biosignature is that it requires further investigation to arrive at a conclusion”.

And that additional investigation is laboratory analysis on Earth after the sample return mission returns in the early 2030s.

Perseverance has collected a dozen samples to date, along with a sample of the Martian atmosphere and two “witness tubes” to help assess any contamination that may be present. The tubes are stored in the rover’s body, and the science team is debating where to deposit an initial cache for later retrieval by the sample return probe.

The rover will eventually climb to the top of the delta before heading to the shore of the ancient lake, collecting more samples along the way. Assuming Perseverance remains healthy, it will meet up with the sample return module and deliver its treasure trove of samples.

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Newsrust - US Top News: NASA's Perseverance Mars rover hits paydirt looking for clues to a possible past life
NASA's Perseverance Mars rover hits paydirt looking for clues to a possible past life
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