Organics found on Mars : explaining whether this means that life could exist on the Red Planet

(ORDO NEWS) — It looks like the mission of the Perseverance rover has been a success. In the delta of an ancient Martian river, explored by the rover, it was possible to detect organic elements that may indicate that there was life on Mars.

NASA held a press conference on September 15, where they shared details on the identified organic samples on Mars. This is a great discovery, which may indicate that there was life on Mars, but not necessarily. We explain why this is so.

In the past few months, Perseverance has been exploring the remains of an ancient river delta inside Jezero Crater on Mars, where there was a large lake billions of years ago.

The presence of this delta is one of the main reasons why NASA sent a car-sized rover to Jezero Crater, and it looks like the mission lived up to its expectations.

What was found on Mars

Since early July, Perseverance has collected four samples from the deltoid formation. All four were drilled out of rocks, showing that this part of Mars could have probably hosted terrestrial organisms in the ancient past – and could even have retained signs of such microbial life.

The rocks we have explored in the delta have the highest concentration of organic matter we have ever found on a mission.

And, of course, organic molecules are the building blocks of life. So it’s all very interesting because we have rocks deposited in a habitable environment in a lake that carries organic matter, said NASA scientist Ken Farley.

One of the interesting zones that Perseverance recently learned is a 1 meter wide rock. The rover team named it the Wild Cat Ridge. According to team members, the “Wild Cat” is a fine-grained mud rock that likely formed at the bottom of ancient Lake Jezero.

Organics found on Mars explaining whether this means that life could exist on the Red Planet 1
Rock “Ridge of the Wild Cat” where Perseverance discovered organic compounds

The SHERLOC (Scanning for Habitable Environments Using Raman and Luminescence to Detect Organic and Chemical Substances) instrument found that the rock is filled with organic matter spatially associated with sulfur-bearing minerals, sulfates.

This correlation suggests that when the lake evaporated, both sulfates and organic matter were deposited, stored, and concentrated in the area. On Earth, sulfate deposits are known to retain organic matter and may contain signs of life called biosignatures.

This makes these samples and this set of observations some of the most intriguing we have done on a mission so far, and justifies the excitement the team had as we approached the delta front, adds Sunanda Sharma of NASA JPL.

Does this indicate that life existed on Mars?

Not required, but possible. Researchers Farley and Sharma noted during a press conference that these Martian compounds cannot be considered biosignatures.

The fact is that organic matter, as NASA notes , can be created and placed purely as a result of geological processes, and the data collected by the rover do not yet give us enough information about the origin scenario to draw unambiguous conclusions.

Indeed, it will be very difficult for the mission team to draw firm conclusions using only the rover’s observational instruments. Farley confirmed this and added that the task is indeed difficult, and the burden of proof that the claimed detection of alien life must meet is very high .

What will be next?

If all goes according to plan, the samples collected by Perseverance will be returned to Earth as early as 2033 by a joint mission between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Once the samples are here, scientists from all over the world will be able to carefully study them with a variety of instruments, many of which are much larger and more complex than what you can cram into a rover.

Perseverance is carrying 43 sample vials, 15 of which are already filled, sealed and awaiting shipment to Earth.

Twelve contain drilled rock cores, one contains an atmospheric sample (the result of Perseverance’s first ever attempt to sample a rock that went awry), and two are “witness tubes” – control samples that will help determine what materials, if any, are in the Martian samples. exist, they may be pollutants from the Earth.

The sample return plan involves the use of an ESA-provided Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) and a NASA-built lander, scheduled to launch to Mars in late 2027 and early 2028, respectively.

Perseverance will drive up to the lander and hand over its samples, which will be launched from the surface of Mars aboard a rocket carried by the lander. In Mars orbit, ERO will capture the standards and deliver them back to Earth.

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