Recently, the Mars Perseverance rover found some interesting rocks that could indicate microbial life used to exist on the planet.
The Perseverance rover has spent 1.5 years on Mars exploring an ancient lake bed.
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Is there life on Mars?
NASA’s Perseverance rover is well into its second science campaign on Mars. The rover has been collecting rock-core samples from a specific area. The Jezero Crater has long been considered a top prospect for finding signs of ancient microbial life on Mars. he rover has collected four samples from an ancient river delta in the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater since July 7. Now, there are 12 scientifically compelling rock samples.
The Jezero Crater is 28 miles wide and hosts a delta. A Delta is an ancient fan-shaped feature that formed about 3.5 billion years ago at the convergence of a Martian river and a lake. Currently, Perseverance is investigating the delta’s sedimentary rocks. During the first science campaign, the rover explored igneous rock– which forms deep underground from magma or during volcanic activity at the surface.
One of the interesting rocks has been named “Wildcat Ridge.” The rock is about 3 feet wide and likely formed billions of years ago as mud and fine sand settled in an evaporating saltwater lake. On July 20, the rover abraded some of the surface of Wildcat Ridge so it could analyze the area. Perseverance analyzed the area using an instrument called Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals, or SHERLOC.
SHERLOC’s analysis indicates that the samples contain class of organic molecules that are spatially correlated with those of sulfate minerals. Sulfate minerals found in layers of sedimentary rock can yield significant information about the aqueous environments in which they formed.
Perseverance’s mission on Mars
A key part of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology. This includes caching samples that may contain signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the geology of the planet and pave the way for human exploration.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach. This includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.