the rover NASA Perseverance continues ahead in its second scientific campaign. The rover is collecting rock samples of various landforms in an area that scientists have long believed offers great potential for finding signs of microbial life on Mars. Since July 7, the rover has collected four samples from an ancient river delta in the jezero crater of the red planet, which brings to 12 the number of rock samples with scientific interest.
“We chose Jezero Crater for Perseverance to explore because we thought it would had the best chance of providing scientifically excellent samples, And now we know we sent the rover to the right place.” said in a statement Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science in Washington. “These first two scientific campaigns have produced an incredible diversity of samples to bring back to Earth. with the Mars Sample Return Campaign.
Jezero Crater, 45 kilometers wide, it houses a delta, an ancient fan-shaped feature that formed about 3.5 billion years ago at the convergence of a Martian river and lake. Currently, Perseverance investigates the sedimentary rocks of the delta, made up of particles of various sizes that settled in a previously aqueous environment. During its first science campaign, the rover explored the crater floor and found igneous rocks, which form deep underground from magma or during volcanic activity on the surface.
“The delta, with its various sedimentary rocks, contrasts beautifully with igneous rocks – formed by the crystallization of magma—, discovered at the bottom of the crater,” said Ken Farley, Perseverance project scientist at Caltech in Pasadena, California. “This juxtaposition provides us with a rich understanding of the post-crater geological history and a diverse set of samples. For example, we found a sandstone bearing grains and rock fragments created far from Jezero Crater, and a mudstone containing intriguing organic compounds.”
“Wildcat Ridge” is the name given to a rock about 1 meter wide that probably formed billions of years ago when mud and fine sand settled in an evaporating saltwater lake. On July 20, the rover eroded part of the surface of Wildcat Ridge so that the area could be analyzed with the instrument called the Habitable Environments Raman and Luminescence Analysis for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) instrument.
SHERLOC’s analysis indicates that the samples present a class of organic molecules that are spatially correlated with those of the sulfate minerals. Sulfate minerals found in sedimentary rock layers can provide important information about the aqueous environments in which they formed.
Organic molecules consist of a wide variety of compounds consisting primarily of carbon and usually contain hydrogen and oxygen atoms. They can also contain other elements, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur. Although there are chemical processes that do not require life to produce these molecules, some of these compounds are their basic chemical ingredients. The presence of these specific molecules is considered a potential biosignature—substances or structures that could be evidence of life in the past—but could also have been produced in the absence of life.
In 2013, the Nasa Curiosity rover In mars found evidence of organic matter in rock dust samples, and Perseverance has detected organic elements in Jezero Crater before. But unlike that earlier discovery, this latest detection was made in an area where, in the distant past, sediments and salts were deposited in a lake under conditions in which life could have existed. In its analysis of Wildcat Ridge, the SHERLOC instrument recorded the most abundant organic detections of the mission to date.
“In the distant past, the sand, mud, and salts that now make up the Wildcat Ridge sample were deposited in conditions in which life could have thrived,” Farley said. “The fact that organic matter was found in such a sedimentary rock, known for preserving fossils of ancient life here on Earth, it is important. However, despite the ability of our instruments aboard Perseverance, we will have to wait until the Wildcat Ridge sample is brought back to Earth to study it in depth and draw more conclusions about its content as part of the return campaign of agency’s Mars samples.”
The first step of the Mars sample return campaign of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA, for its acronym in English) it began when Perseverance extracted its first rock sample in September 2021. In addition to rock samples, the rover has collected an atmospheric sample and two core tubes of material, all stored in the rover’s belly.
The geological diversity of the samples that the rover already has it’s so good that the rover team is studying the possibility of depositing selected tubes near the base of the delta in about two months. After depositing them, the rover will continue its explorations in the delta.
“I have studied Martian habitability and geology for much of my career and know first-hand the incredible scientific value of returning to Earth a set of carefully collected Martian rocks”said Laurie Leshin, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). “That we are weeks away from deploying Perseverance’s fascinating samples and just a few years away from bringing them back to Earth so scientists can study them in exquisite detail is truly phenomenal. We are going to learn a lot.”
One of the main goals of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, which includes the collection of stored samples that may contain signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s past geology and climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and store Martian rocks and regolith.
The following NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA, andThey would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for further analysis.
The mission March 2020 Perseverance is part of NASA’s Moon-to-Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare humanity for the exploration of the red planet.