NASA's Perseverance Rover finds evidence of water and volcanic rocks
Data collected from Mars Perseverance Rover tells a "story of fire and water." After three research papers, scientists have consolidated their findings on the red planet, and have discovered that the Martian samples contain life-supporting clues "in pretty much every rock." Samples collected by the Rover have unveiled certain aspects of Mars' environmental history, including the presence of water and volcanic history.
Why does this story matter?
- For decades now, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and other satellites have been probing the red planet, but scientists are more interested in the area around the landing site of Perseverance Rover in the Jerezo Crater.
- That's because the Crater was supposed to have been an ancient river delta flooded with water and could thereby possess vital clues about signs of past life on the planet.
The rock samples collected from Jerezo Crater are much older
It is a well-established fact that Mars, at some point in its history, did contain water and might have been habitable back then. Moreover, the rocks at the Jerezo Crater are older than those of previous landing sites and provide a clearer picture of the history of the red planet. And interestingly, the obtained data has revealed that "water was everywhere."
Almost all the obtained Martian rock samples contained organic matter
Scientists were surprised to discover that almost every Martian rock sample contained organic matter. According to one of the studies, the rocks were subjected to three different events in which they were exposed to water. "Crucially, conditions in the rock during each time that water migrated through it could have supported small communities of microorganisms," said Michael Tice, lead author and a geologist.
Organic molecules can have a biological or non-biological origin
However, discovering organic molecules, which are primarily made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, might not necessarily prove the presence of life on the red planet. These molecules could have originated from non-biological sources as well.
The Rover's findings also uncover the presence of volcanic rocks
Another study that investigated the chemistry of Mars, revealed that the planet contained volcanic rocks. This surprised geological scientists who were expecting to find sedimentary rocks at the Jerezo Crater. The detection of iron-rich minerals, like olivine and pyroxene, led to this conclusion.
The Rover is one of NASA's most sophisticated explorers
On February 18, 2023, the Perseverance Rover will successfully complete its one-year anniversary. The six-wheeled Rover is one of NASA's most sophisticated robotic explorers and can study Martian samples in greater detail than its forerunners. Among its slew of instruments are the Mastcam-Z, or the "eyes" of the rover, SHERLOC, which performs X-ray spectroscopy, and PIXL which carries out ultraviolet spectroscopy.
The in-house equipment on Mars Rover has provided significant insights
"These (research) papers demonstrate the power of the Mars 2020 (Perseverance Rover) payload," said Briony Horgan, co-author of one of the three studies. "By studying the geology of Jezero crater from outcrop [large] scales with Mastcam-Z all the way down to individual grains with PIXL and SHERLOC, we've been able to piece together the complex history of the crater floor," she explained.
NASA and ESA will bring back samples to Earth
Data obtained from Rover provide pathbreaking evidence of life on the red planet but there will be "huge advances" when the samples are brought back to Earth for further study. NASA and ESA intend on bringing back Martian samples by the early 2030s.