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Researching the location of an ancient river delta, the Perseverance rover has collected some of the most important specimens ever. her do a task Determine if life exists on Mars, according to NASA scientists.
A few of the recently collected specimens contain organic material, suggesting that Jezero Crater, which once probably housed a lake and delta spilled into it, Potentially habitable environments 3.5 billion years ago.
“The rocks we investigated in the delta have the highest concentration of organic matter we’ve found yet 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, involves searching for signs of ancient microbial life. resolution collection of rock samples Have preserved these narratives biological signatures. Currently, the rover includes 12 rock samples.
a series of tasks called Mars Sample Return will eventually take the collection back to Earth in the 2030s.
The site of the delta specifically forms the 28-mile (45-kilometer) long Jezero Crater. Great interest to NASA scientists The fan-shaped geological feature, once present where a river meets a lake, preserves layers of Martian history in sedimentary rocks formed by the aggregation of particles in this previously water-filled environment.
The rover explored the crater floor and found evidence of igneous or volcanic rock. During its second expedition to study the delta in the past five months, Perseverance found rich layers of sedimentary rock that further adds to the story of Mars’ ancient climate and environment.
“With its diverse sedimentary rocks, the delta contrasts nicely with the igneous rocks formed from the crystallization of magma discovered at the crater floor,” Farley said. Said.
“This juxtaposition provides a rich understanding of the geological history and a diverse package of specimens after the crater was formed. For example, we found a sandstone bearing created grains and rock fragments far from Jezero Crater.”
The mission team named one of the rocks Perseverance sampled Wildcat Ridge. The rock likely formed billions of years ago when mud and sand settled into a saltwater lake as it evaporated. The rover scraped the surface of the rock and analyzed it with an instrument known as Raman & Luminescence and the Habitable Environment Scan for Organics and Chemicals, or SHERLOC.
This rock-zapping laser functions as a fancy black light to reveal chemicals, minerals and organic matter, said SHERLOC scientist Sunanda Sharma at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
Analysis of the instrument revealed that the organic minerals were likely stable carbon and hydrogen molecules bound to aromatics or sulfates. Sulphate minerals, which are usually compressed within layers of sedimentary rocks, preserve information about the aqueous environments they form.
Organic molecules are of interest on Mars as they represent the building blocks of life, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur, along with carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Not all organic molecules are necessary for life to form, as some can be created by chemical processes.
“While the detection of this organic class alone doesn’t necessarily mean that life is out there, this set of observations is starting to resemble some of the things we see here on Earth,” Sharma said. Said. “Simply put, organic matter is a clue if this is a treasure hunt for potential signs of life on another planet. We’re getting stronger clues as we progress through our Delta campaign.”
The Perseverance and Curiosity rover had previously found organic matter on Mars. This time, however, the detection took place in a region where life may once have existed.
“In the distant past, the sand, mud, and salts that now make up the Wildcat Ridge example were deposited under conditions in which life could potentially flourish,” Farley said. Said.
“It’s important that organic matter is found in such a sedimentary rock – known to preserve fossils of ancient life here on Earth. will have to wait until he returns to Earth for in-depth study as part of
Farley said the samples collected so far represent such a rich diversity from key areas in the crater and delta that the Perseverance team is interested in deploying some of the collection tubes to a designated location on Mars in about two months.
The rover will continue to explore the delta when it drops the instances in this cache store.
Future missions could collect these samples and send them back to Earth for analysis using some of the most precise and advanced instruments on the planet. It’s unlikely that Perseverance will find uncontested evidence of life on Mars, because the burden of proof is too high to set it up on another planet, Farley said.
“For most of my career I have studied the habitability and geology of Mars, and I know firsthand the incredible scientific value of returning a carefully collected set of Martian rocks back to Earth,” said Laurie Leshin, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. .
“We have weeks to implement fascinating examples of Perseverance, and only a few years to bring them back to Earth before scientists can study them down to the last detail. We’re going to learn a lot.”
Some of the various rocks in the delta were about 65.6 feet (20 meters) apart, and each tells a different story.
A piece of sandstone called Skinner Ridge is evidence of rocky material transported into the crater, possibly hundreds of miles away, and represents material that the rover could not travel through during its mission. Wildcat Ridge, on the other hand, preserves evidence of clays and sulfates that coalesce to form into rock.
Once the samples enter laboratories on Earth, they can reveal insights into potentially habitable Martian environments, such as chemistry, temperature, and when material accumulates in the lake.
“I think it’s safe to say that these are the two most important samples we’ll collect in this mission,” said David Shuster, Perseverance return sample scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.
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