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Mars Perseverance Rover finds organic matter in rock

Mars Perseverance Rover finds organic matter in rock
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This story is part of Welcome to Marsour series exploring the red planet.

On Mars in just a year and a half OUR‘s Perseverance Rover has absolutely rocked its science mission. The agency held a briefing on Thursday to discuss highlights of the mission so far, and it was a celebration of the rock sampling and organic matter discovery.

Organic Molecules in Wildcat Ridge

A rock called Wildcat Ridge, located in an ancient river delta region of Jezero Crater, was one of the stars of the show. Percy successfully collected two samples from the mudstone rock. Wildcat Ridge is particularly exciting because the organic molecules (called aromatics) found within it are considered a potential biosignature, which NASA describes as a substance or structure that could be evidence of past life, but could also have arisen without the presence of life .

The rover team emphasized that finding organic matter does not mean there is evidence of ancient life. Organic molecules have been sighted on Mars before Curiosity Rover in Gale Crater and also through perseverance that carbon-containing molecules found earlier in the mission.

Perseverance collected two core samples from Wildcat Ridge and also ground down a circular patch to inspect the rock with its Sherlock instrument.

NASA, JPL-Caltech, ASU, MSSS

The rover’s Sherlock instrument studied the rock. (Sherloc stands for Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals.) “In its analysis of Wildcat Ridge, the Sherloc instrument registered the most common organic evidence on the mission to date,” NASA said.

Scientists see familiar signs in analysis of Wildcat Ridge. “In the distant past, the sand, mud, and salts that make up the Wildcat Ridge sample today were deposited in conditions where life could possibly have thrived,” said Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley in an opinion. “The fact that organic material was found in such sedimentary rock – known for preserving fossils of ancient life here on Earth – is important.”

Persistence is unable to find definitive evidence of ancient microbial life on the red planet. “The reality is that the evidence for establishing life on another planet is very, very heavy,” Farley said during the press conference. To do this, we need to study Martian rocks up close and personal in Earth labs.

sample drop

Percy currently has 12 rock samples on board including the Wildcat Ridge cuts and samples from another sedimentary delta rock called Skinner Ridge. Igneous rock samples were also collected at the start of the mission, indicating the effects of long-ago volcanic activity in the crater.

NASA is so pleased with the variety of samples collected that it is considering dumping some of the filled tubes on the surface soon in preparation for the future Return of the Mars sample (MSR) campaign. MSR is an ambitious plan to send a lander to Mars, pick up Percy’s samples, shoot them off the surface and bring them back to Earth for close examination. The mission is under development. If all goes according to plan, these rocks could be here by 2033.

The complexity and importance of MSR means NASA and its partners are working out ways to ensure the samples can be collected. There is hope that by the time the MSR lander arrives, Perseverance will still be in good standing and will be able to fulfill it and deliver samples in person. Leaving some samples on the ground at a cache location in the crater so early in the mission will give MSR another opportunity to bring the precious rocks on board.

Percy collected paired samples. For example, it could keep one Wildcat Ridge tube on board and drop the other on the ground. “To be weeks from delivering Perseverance’s fascinating samples and only a few years from bringing them to Earth for scientists to study in minute detail is truly phenomenal,” said NASA JPL Director Laurie Leshin. “We will learn so much.”

What’s next for Percy?

As exciting as the Delta was, the Rover team looks forward to future adventures beyond. Endurance could hike up the crater rim, with the team eyeing several possible paths for the climb. his companion Resourceful helicopter is in good health and expected to get airborne again.

NASA chose Jezero Crater because of its fascinating water history and the fact that the rocks there could hold evidence of ancient life if it existed on Mars during more habitable times. Sherlock scientist Sunanda Sharma likened the mission to a treasure hunt for organic life on another planet and said the flavoring samples were a clue. The mystery of Mars is just beginning to unfold.

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