According to scientists of NASA’s Perseverance rover, the rover has collected several samples of organic rocks in an ancient, dry river delta on the Red Planet.
Rover has already saved the samples for a future mission that will bring them back to Earth.
“The rock samples we’re studying in the delta have the highest concentration of organic material we’ve found so far on this mission. Organic molecules are the building blocks of life, and therefore it is very interesting that we have rocks that were deposited in a lake containing organic materials in an environment favorable to life,” says Ken Farley, a scientist of the Perseverance project.
At the bottom of an ancient, dry lake, as well as in a dry river delta, Rover has already taken 12 samples. The current location of Perseverance is a delta formed about 3.5 billion years ago where a Martian river joined a lake.
Perseverance is currently studying the sedimentary rocks of the delta, which formed when particles of various sizes were deposited at one time in a watery environment. As part of the first scientific campaign, Rover explored the crater floor, finding a volcanic rock that was formed either deep below the surface by magma or by volcanic activity on the surface.
Now. As part of the second scientific campaign, Rover studies the delta, where he found organic materials. Although organic materials have been found on Mars before, both by Perseverance and Curiosity, the new discovery was made in an area where sediments and salts were deposited in a lake in the distant past, in an environment that could potentially support life.
According to Ken Farley, they found sandstone containing grains and rock fragments that originated far from the lake’s crater; A claystone containing intriguing organic compounds has also been discovered.
The stone, about a meter wide, is believed to have formed billions of years ago, evaporating, from the deposition of mud and fresh sand in a brackish lake; Scientists called this stone “Wild Cat’s Spine”.
On July 20, Rover drilled a section of the “wildcat spine” to examine the sample with his own instruments.
Analyzes by the SHERLOC instrument revealed that the sample contained a class of organic molecules associated with sulfate minerals. Sulfate minerals found in layers of sedimentary rock can tell us a lot about the aqueous environment in which they formed.
“This relationship indicates that when the lake evaporated, both sulfates and organic matter were deposited, which were concentrated and preserved in this area. Such results make me happy because I realize that we are in the right place, with the right tools, at the right time,” says SHERLOC scientist Sunanda Sharma.
According to NASA, organic molecules include a wide variety of compounds that are made primarily of carbon and contain mostly hydrogen and oxygen atoms. They may also contain other elements, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.
Although there are chemical processes that produce these molecules without the need for life, some of these compounds are chemicals that are the building blocks of life. The presence of these specific molecules is considered a potential biosignature; A biosignature is a substance or structure that may be evidence of past life.
“For Perseverance, we chose Ezero Crater for research because there was the best chance of having brilliant samples from a scientific point of view; And now we know that we sent the plane to the right place. “The first two science campaigns have provided us with an amazing variety of samples that future missions should bring back to Earth,” said NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen.
NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are currently working on a mission to bring samples from Mars back to Earth for detailed studies. At this stage, a mission called the Sample Return Lander is being considered, which will land in the lake’s crater, load a small rocket into which the samples taken and stored by Perseverance will be reloaded.
Two Ingenuity-like helicopters will also take samples on the surface of Mars. After the sample-laden rocket lifts off from the Martian surface, it will be intercepted by another spacecraft in orbit and brought back to Earth sometime in the mid-2030s.
These samples may answer a key question: Did life ever exist on Mars?
Prepared according to Universe Today.