‘Titty-tasting’ Martian rock samples collected by Perserverance rover

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NASA’s Perseverance rover has collected several “tempting” rock samples from an ancient river delta on Mars, paving the way for an elaborate future mission that aims to recover the specimens and return them to Earth.

Agency officials said on Thursday that four “scientifically convincing” rock samples had been taken from Jezero Crater, an area on Mars where a river and a lake converged billions of years ago, making makes a prime place to look for signs of ancient microbial life.

Scientists won’t be able to study the specimens up close until they’re brought to Earth, likely in the 2030s, but NASA said some of the rocks contain the highest concentrations of organic matter ever detected by the Earth. Perseverance rover.

“I personally find these results so moving because we feel like we’re in the right place with the right tools at a very crucial time,” Sunanda Sharma, mission scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said Thursday. during a press briefing.

The presence of organic molecules – usually made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen – doesn’t necessarily mean there was once life on the Red Planet, but organics are considered key ingredients for life. .

Ken Farley, Perseverance project scientist at the California Institute of Technology, said researchers did not yet know the significance of the findings, but added that it was “interesting” to find rocks containing organic matter in the habitable environment of Jezero Crater.

“These rocks are exactly the kind of rocks that we came to study, both with the rover and its science instruments and also to bring them back to Earth so they could be studied in terrestrial laboratories,” he said. declared.

Perseverance has been exploring the 28-mile-wide basin of Jezero Crater since it landed on Mars in February 2021. The rover has previously found igneous rocks, likely formed deep underground by volcanic processes, on the crater floor. Perseverance is currently examining sediment samples along the fan-shaped delta, which is believed to have formed 3.5 billion years ago from an ancient river flowing into Jezero.

“This incredible rover has collected a truly tantalizing suite of rocks with extraordinary scientific potential,” said Laurie Leshin, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, during the briefing.

Perseverance, for example, identified a 3-foot-wide mudstone, dubbed Wildcat Ridge, which contains organic compounds and was likely formed billions of years ago when mud and sandy sediments were deposited in an evaporating lake.

Perseverance has collected 12 “scientifically convincing” rock cores to date, as well as a sample of the Red Planet’s atmosphere.

The rover’s mission to the Martian surface is the first step in the so-called Mars Sample Return campaign, a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency. Subsequent missions will send another spacecraft to Mars to collect the samples and bring them back to Earth for more detailed analysis.

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