This story is part ofour series exploring the red planet.
In just a year and a half on Mars, the Perseverance Chariot rocked its science mission. NASA hosted a briefing Thursday to discuss the highlights from the mission so far, and it was a celebration of rock samples and the discovery of organic matter.
Organic Molecules in Wildcat Ridge
A rock called Wildcat Ridge, located in an ancient river delta in Jezero Crater, was one of the stars of the show. Percy succeeded in collecting two clay rock samples. Wildcat Ridge is particularly exciting because the organic molecules (called aromatics) in it are a potential biosignature, which NASA describes as a substance or structure that could be evidence of past life but may also have been produced without life.
The rover team emphasized that finding the organic matter does not mean that evidence of ancient life has been found. Organic molecules have been observed on Mars before byAs well as with perseverance that Earlier in the mission.
The Sherloc instrument (which scans habitable environments with Raman & Luminescence for organics and chemicals) examined the rocks. “In its analysis of Wildcat Ridge, the Sherlock instrument recorded the most abundant organic discovery of the mission to date,” NASA said.
Scientists see familiar signs in Wildcat Ridge analysis. “In the distant past, the sand, mud, and salts that now make up the Wildcat Ridge specimen were deposited under conditions where life would have thrived,” Perseverance Project scientist Ken Farley said in the current situation. “The fact that organic matter is found in such sedimentary rocks – known to preserve fossils of ancient life here on Earth – is important.”
Perseverance is not equipped to find definitive evidence of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet. “The truth is that the burden of proof to establish life on another planet is very high,” Farley said during the press conference. For this, we need to examine Martian rocks up close and personal in Earth laboratories.
Percy currently has 12 rock samples on board, including a cut of the Wildcat Ridge and samples of another delta sedimentary rock called Skinner Ridge. I also collected samples of igneous rocks earlier in the mission that indicate the impact of volcanic action long ago in the crater.
NASA is so pleased with the variety of samples collected that they’re looking to drop some filled tubes on the surface soon in preparation for the future.Campaign (MSR). MSR is an ambitious plan to send a lander to Mars, capture Percy’s samples, launch them to the surface and return them to Earth for closer study. The mission is in development, but if all goes as planned, these rocks could be here by 2033.
The complexity and importance of the MSR means that NASA and its partners are working on ways to ensure that samples can be collected. There is hope that the Perseverance will still be operating in good shape by the time the MSR lander arrives, and will be able to meet it and deliver samples in person. Leaving some samples on the ground early in the mission in a bunker location in the crater will give MSR another chance to get the precious rocks aboard.
Percy was collecting the double samples. For example, he can keep one Wildcat Ridge tube aboard and drop the other on the ground. “Being weeks away from releasing fantastic samples and only years of bringing them back to Earth so scientists can study them in great detail is truly extraordinary,” NASA JPL Administrator Laurie Leshin. “We will learn a lot.”
What’s next for Percy?
As exciting as the Delta was, the Rover team is looking forward to future adventures beyond. Perseverance can wander the crater rim as the team looks to several different potential climbs. mateHe is in good health and is expected to fly through the air again.
NASA chose Jezero Crater for exploration due to its fascinating history in the waters and how the rocks there could have preserved evidence of ancient life, if it existed during habitable times on Mars. Sherlock scientist Sunanda Sharma likened the mission to searching for a treasure trove of organic life on another planet, saying samples containing aromatic substances are evidence. The mystery of Mars is just beginning to emerge.