Astrobiologists tested tools for detecting life on a rover

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Scientists used the same methods that will soon be used to search for evidence of life on Mars to find evidence of the earliest life forms on Earth, in South Australia.

UNSW astrobiologists tested the technology that will be launched on Mars with the NASA Perseverance rover to find out how it will detect signs of life on Mars.

In a recent article in Astrobiology magazine, Bonnie Tees from UNSW in Sydney says technology is being tested.

Tees, along with scientists from Macquarie University and the University of Missouri, have reproduced the methods that the rover will use when selecting Martian rocks for analysis of biomarkers – naturally occurring molecules that indicate the presence of microbial life. The team examined samples collected at the Flinders Range in South Australia.

“This is an ideal place to conduct research related to Mars, because it is a dry, dusty and windy area that is very barren and therefore a really good analogue,” said Tees. “We wanted to use the same techniques as on the rover to identify the best areas for finding life and to show that these techniques work well.”

Tees said that when looking for signs of life on Mars, or in our case, ancient life on Earth, it is very important that scientists use a lot of evidence.

“If you have one line of evidence, this might not be the right method — it could be an artifact of pollution, or it might look like life, but not be,” she says. “That’s why it is so important that the rover has a variety of equipment that can explore deposits on Mars in different ways in search of better candidates.”

The Perseverance Rover will explore the Jezero Crater on Mars. It is equipped with high-tech tools to help identify the breed on the Red Planet. He has a camera called the MASTCAM-Z, equipped with “eagle eyes” to identify rock samples over long distances. It is also equipped with a PIXL instrument, which uses X-ray lithochemistry to detect the elemental composition of samples visible to the naked eye. And the final analysis tool is the SHERLOC tool, whose main goal is the detection of organic compounds and biosignatures by scanning the environment using spectroscopy.

By imitating the technology available on the rover, Tees and her team were able to determine which samples would not have the signs of organics, and which were less likely to retain these organic substances.

Although the conditions on the Flinders on Earth and in the Jezero crater on Mars are very different – partly due to the lack of atmosphere on the latter – the methods have been successful, even despite the problems that are typical only for the hot conditions on our planet.

“When deposits are deposited in layers of sand and lithified, turning into stones, they heat up, because the interior of the Earth is very hot. Falling about every kilometer below the surface, the temperature rises by 25 ° C. This heat also destroys organic compounds, so knowing the maximum temperature of the rock is very important for the interpretation of analyzes. ”

“What is interesting is that we discovered signs of the ancient microbial life of the Cambrian period, when animals first appeared on Earth. We found biomarkers, we found organic compounds and physical fossils and minerals that are related to biology on Earth, ”she said.

“The key is to use several lines of research. If the physical fossils were destroyed by some geological process, such as the constant processing of moving sand – a huge problem on Mars – then you need to find other ways to look for signs of life. This is one of the reasons why we are also looking for additional information, such as the chemical composition of the rocks.

“This means that we are getting a more complete and reliable picture of this moment in geological time. And this is what the rover will explore on Mars, because it will also use various tools. ”

NASA has identified a window for launching the rover from July 17 to August 5, 2020.


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