Perseverance finds an “organic treasure” that could reveal if there was life on Mars

The robotic vehicle NASA’s Perseverance Rover continues to analyze the terrain of Mars in order to discover more about the past of our neighboring planet. In this mission, the rover is collecting and analyzing rock samples from different areas and reliefs that, according to scientists, could show traces of microbial life.

According to NASA, since July 7, the rover has collected four samples from an ancient river delta in the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater, which raises the number of rock samples of scientific interest to 12.

“We chose Jezero Crater for Perseverance to explore because we thought it had the best chance of providing scientifically excellent samples, and now we know we sent the rover to the right place.” Thomas ZurbuchenNASA associate administrator for science in Washington.

The Jezero crater is 45 kilometers wide and is characterized by having a fan-shaped delta formed more than 3.5 billion years ago at the convergence of a river and a lake. Perseverance, thanks to its advanced technology, is analyzing the rocks of the delta, made up of particles of various sizes that have settled in a previously aqueous environment.

It is not the first scientific campaign carried out by a rover on this surface. Previously, he had already analyzed the floor of the crater and found magmatic rocks formed deep underground during volcanic activity on the Martian surface.

“The delta, with its various sedimentary rocks, contrasts beautifully with the igneous rocks – formed by the crystallization of magma – discovered at the bottom of the crater,” he explained to NASA. Ken FarleyPerseverance Project Scientist from Caltech in Pasadena, California.

ANDl Perseverance arrived on the red planet in 2021 and in 18 months he has been in charge of analyzing and reporting everything that has happened since then.

“This juxtaposition gives us a rich understanding of the post-crater geological history and a diverse set of samples. For example, andwe found a sandstone bearing grains and rock fragments created far from Jezero Craterand a mudstone containing intriguing organic compounds.”

The Wildcat Ridge

One of the rocks collected by Perseverance has been dubbed by the mission command team as Wildcat Ridge. It is a stone about a meter wide that was formed, according to NASA, billions of years ago when mud and fine sand settled in a lake of evaporating salt water. On July 20, the rover excavated part of the surface of Wildcat Ridge to analyze and thus study the past of Mars. He did this using a device called Analysis of habitable environments with Raman and luminescence for organic and chemical products (SHERLOC).

SHERLOC’s analysis revealed that the rocks contained a number of organic molecules related to those of the sulfate minerals. The sulfate minerals found in layers of sedimentary rock can provide important information about the aqueous environments in which they formed.

there could have been life

“Organic molecules consist of a wide variety of compounds made up primarily of carbon and often include hydrogen and oxygen atoms. They may also contain other elements, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur. The presence of these specific molecules is considered a potential biosignature – substances or structures that could be evidence that there was life in the past–, but they could also have occurred in the absence of any life »explain NASA experts.

“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 to preserve fossils of ancient life here on Earth, is important. However, despite the capabilities of our instruments aboard Perseverance, we will have to wait for the Wildcat Ridge sample to be brought back to Earth to study it in depth and draw further conclusions about its content as part of the agency’s Mars Sample Return campaign.”

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