Even though nobody seems to care about NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover anymore because new trends come and go, the rover continues to perform its primary assignment which is the search for any presence of ancient life on the red planet.
According to a new report, the rover dug up new rock samples at the bottom of a Martian river from where there could be possibilities of past ancient life.
This is Perseverance’s second rocket collecting campaign and has now collected four more sedimentary rock samples from a dead river in the Jezero Crater which makes it 12 samples collected since it started on July 7th.
The main reason for the river delta by NASA was because it offered the highest odds of finding signs of ancient microbial life.
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And if anything can be found even if it’s microbial life, its existence would have dated back to about 3.5 billion years ago when the riverbed was formed.
Perseverance is plucking sedimentary rock from a portion where the Martian river and a lake meet in the Jezero Crater. The crater itself is 28 miles (45 kilometers) wide.
NASA’s associate administrator for science in the state of Washington, Thomas Zurbuchen said the Perseverance had collected an “amazing diversity” of samples that will be shot back to Earth in the Mars Sample Return campaign in the next decade.
“We picked the 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 location,” said Zurbuchen in a press release.
As for the return campaign, NASA is planning to launch the Sample Retrieval Lander to Mars by the year 2028 and land in the Jezero Crater.
Then the lander will carry a NASA-led Mars rocket and a pair of small Mars helicopters. Upon arrival back to Earth, scientists will be able to conduct a series of tests on the collections in order to understand what they are consist of.
Even though it would take quite a while before the retrieval vehicle is sent to the red planet if SpaceX and Elon Musk’s plans are realized, humans could in fact land on Mars before the rock samples return to Earth.
Elon Musk’s recent presumption is that humans could land on the red planet as soon as the year 2029.
Perseverance and its sibling Ingenuity landed on Mars on February 18, 2021, about seven months after launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The rover’s first campaign was to explore the Jezero’s floor where it collected igneous rockets that contain crystals that can tell exactly when they were formed.
Unlike sedimentary rockets which are being collected now, igneous rocks usually form in molten lava or during volcanic activity.
On the rover is a SuperCam which is a rock-vaporizing laser that zapped the rocks during the first campaign in order to determine if it was igneous rock covering the crater’s floor.
The two different types of rocks give NASA the ability to understand the crater’s geologic past.
“The delta, with its diverse sedimentary rocks, contrasts beautifully with the igneous rocks – formed from the crystallization of magma – discovered on the crater floor,” said Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley of Caltech in Pasadena, California.
“This juxtaposition provides us with a rich understanding of the geologic history after the crater formed and a diverse sample suite. For example, we found a sandstone that carries grains and rock fragments created far from Jezero Crater – and a mudstone that includes intriguing organic compounds.”
The new evidence of organic molecules on Mars is more promising than the Curiosity rover’s 2013 finding of evidence of organic matter on the planet according to NASA.
In the case of the Perseverance rover’s discoveries, it’s amazing that the organic molecules found are in an “area where, in the distant past, sediment and salts were deposited into a lake under conditions in which life could potentially have existed.”
These were found in a section of the crater called Wildcat Ridge.
“In the distant past, the sand, mud, and salts that now make up the Wildcat Ridge sample were deposited under conditions where life could potentially have thrived”
“The fact the organic matter was found in such a sedimentary rock – known for preserving fossils of ancient life here on Earth – is important. However, as capable as our instruments aboard Perseverance is, further conclusions regarding what is contained in the Wildcat Ridge sample will have to wait until it’s returned to Earth for in-depth study as part of the agency’s Mars Sample Return campaign,” said Farley.