(ORDO NEWS) — The Perseverance rover has been on a streak of victories lately!
For the past year and a half, the rover has been exploring the Jezero crater on Mars to learn more about the planet’s past.
As part of this mission, Perseverance is collecting samples of Martian rock and soil, which it will set aside in a cache for future retrieval. As part of the NASA/ESA sample return mission, they will be returned to Earth for analysis and may contain evidence of past life.
Thanks to an international team of geologists and astrobiologists overseeing the collection process, the first of these rock samples has been obtained!
The team consisted of researchers from the California Institute of Technology, the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Planetary Research Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Institute of Mineralogy, the Institute of Physics of Matter and Cosmochemistry, the Blue Space Science Institute marble (BMSIS) and several universities.
Altered Igneous Rock Samples from the Floor of Jezero Crater on Mars,” recently appeared in the journal Science.
The samples were recovered from the bottom of Jezero Crater, an ancient lakebed. once water flowed into it. This is evident from the sedimentary deposits on the western side of the crater, which were flow channels, as indicated by how they resemble a river delta.
The site was specifically chosen as the landing site for Perseverance because scientists believe that samples from these sedimentary deposits will shed light on the geological history of Mars.
This includes when (and for how long) water flowed on the surface of the planet – i.e. constantly or in short bursts – and how it turned into what we see today.
Even more enticing is the possibility that these samples will contain evidence of past life on Mars that could have evolved billions of years ago, when Mars had a warmer, wetter climate.
Amy Williams, professor of geology at UF, is one of the long-term planners for the Perseverance mission, which helps determine where the rover will drill. and which tests and samples to prioritize.
As she said in a recent UF News:
“These environments on Earth are places where life thrives. The goal of exploring the Jezero Delta and Crater is to search these once-inhabited environments for rocks that may contain evidence of ancient life.
“There are organisms on Earth that live in very similar rocks. And water changes in minerals can capture biosignatures.”
Since landing in February 2021, Perseverance has been exploring the floor of the crater using a set of tools to analyze geological features. , chemical composition of rocks and subsoil structure.
So far, their results have confirmed that the environment is more complex than previously thought.
For example, the team found that the crater floor had been eroded more than expected, exposing igneous rocks formed from magma and lava flows. Scientists expected the floor of the crater to be covered in softer sediments that had likely worn away over the millennia.
The presence of igneous rocks has shed new light on the formation of the crater and how it has developed since then,” said Bethany Elmann, professor of planetary science and associate director of the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) at Caltech (who was not part of the research team):
“The discovery of igneous rocks at the bottom of the crater suggests that the Lake is more complex than the model of the lake basin, which eventually fills with sediments, and the delta is the last landform.
It states that the region has a rich geological history that has included both igneous and sedimentary processes.”
Moreover, the igneous rocks sampled by Perseverance show evidence of mineral alteration in water and organic compounds. These and other results support the theory that Jezero Crater may have been habitable billions of years ago.
The rover is currently exploring the river delta to collect additional samples for a sample return mission from Mars. , which will consist of elements provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA that will land on the surface of Mars, retrieve the cache of samples and return it to orbit, where the spacecraft will rendezvous with it and take the samples home.
These include the NASA Sample Retrieval Lander (SLR), the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) and the Capture, Containment and Return System (CCRS), as well as the ESA Sample Transfer Arm and Earth Return Orbiter. (ERO).
This mission is currently under development and is tentatively scheduled for a launch time between fall 2027 and summer 2028. The mission will land near the Octavia E. Butler landing site (where Perseverance landed in 2021) by 2029 and return samples to Earth by 2033.
To date, the Perseverance rover has received thirteen samples from various locations in the crater (see map above). Once they are returned to Earth, scientists will be able to conduct detailed studies that would not be possible with robotic missions.
Although Perseverance and Curiosity are equipped with advanced scientific instruments and onboard laboratories, the equipment needed to conduct very deep analysis is too heavy and unwieldy to transport to Mars.
The sample return mission will be the first to bring rocks and soil obtained directly from Mars back to Earth.
These studies include measuring the age of rock samples taken from the crater floor, which likely predate the river delta, and provide important information about the age of the lake.
In addition, scientists will look for signs of ancient life (so-called biosignatures), which are expected to be fossilized bacteria or organic molecules formed in the presence of life (assuming anything is found at all).
Whatever these patterns are, the results are sure to be about anything that is groundbreaking and has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of Mars.
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