In just a year and a half on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover has completed its scientific mission. The space agency organized this week a stage point to discuss the highlights since the arrival on the red planet. The highlight is the rock samples and the discovery of organic matter.

Organic molecules in the Wildcat Ridge

A rock called Wildcat Ridge, located in an ancient river delta region of Jezero Crater, was one of the stars of this presentation. Perseverance managed to take two samples of this clayey rock. Wildcat Ridge is particularly interesting because the organic molecules (called aromatics) it contains are believed to be a potential biosignature, which Nasa describes as a substance or structure that could be evidence of past life, but could also have been produced without the presence of life.

The rover team stressed that finding organic matter does not mean they have found evidence of ancient life. Organic molecules have been spotted on Mars before, by the Curiosity rover in Gale crater and by Perseverance, which found carbon-containing molecules.

Thanks to its Sherloc instrument (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals), the rover carried out an initial analysis of this rock. “In its analysis of Wildcat Ridge, the Sherloc instrument recorded the most abundant organic detections of the mission to date”, details NASA.

Scientists picked up familiar clues in the analysis of Wildcat Ridge. “In the distant past, the sand, mud and salts that make up the Wildcat Ridge sample today were deposited under conditions where life could potentially have thrived,” says Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley. “The fact that organic matter was found in such sedimentary rock, which is known to preserve fossils of ancient life here on Earth, is significant. »

Perseverance is not equipped to find definitive evidence of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet. “The reality is that the burden of proof for establishing life on another planet is very, very high,” said Ken Farley. This will require examining Martian rocks up close and in person in laboratories on Earth.

The return of samples

Perseverance currently has 12 rock samples on board, including the pieces from Wildcat Ridge and samples from another delta sedimentary rock called Skinner Ridge. Early in the mission, the rover also collected rock samples that indicate the impact of ancient volcanic activity in the crater.

NASA is so satisfied with the diversity of the samples collected that it plans to deposit some of the filled tubes on the surface soon for the future MSR (Mars Sample Return) mission. MSR is an ambitious project that involves sending a lander to Mars, retrieving the Perseverance samples, lifting them from the surface, and returning them to Earth for study. The mission is under development. If all goes as planned, these rocks could arrive in 2033.

NASA hopes that Perseverance will still be functioning nominally by the time the MSR lander arrives and will be able to join it and deliver samples. Leaving some samples on the ground so early in the mission is an additional security to ensure that they can be recovered by other means if the rover is no longer operational.

Perseverance collected samples in pairs. For example, he could keep one Wildcat Ridge tube on board and drop the other on the ground. “The fact that we’re weeks away from deploying the Perseverance samples and just a few years from getting them back to Earth for scientists to study in great detail is truly phenomenal,” enthuses JPL Director Laurie Leshin. from NASA. “We are going to learn so many things.”

The continuation of the adventure for Perseverance

After exploring the center of the Jezero crater, the rover team plans what’s next. Perseverance could venture to the crater rim, with several possible paths for ascent. The Ingenuity helicopter, whose performance has exceeded all expectations, should play the scouts. Nasa chose to explore Jezero Crater because of the past presence of water and how the rocks there could preserve traces of ancient life.

Space: the Perseverance rover has detected potential biosignatures on Mars

The Perseverance rover has taken a major step in its search for traces of ancient life on Mars. The robot collected samples considered “the most valuable”, according to the scientists. They would contain potential biosignatures whose nature will have to be confirmed on Earth, NASA announced on Thursday. For the moment, we cannot yet say with certainty that this is proof that life once existed on the red planet, but these samples represent the best chance to be able to detect the possibility of an ancient microbial life.

Samples potentially signs of a past life

There remains indeed a part of doubt: a potential biosignature may have been produced by the presence of life, but also by another mechanism not involving life. To consider this biosignature as definitive, these samples will therefore have to be analyzed by powerful laboratory instruments. Nasa plans to bring them back with another mission by 2033. “I think it’s safe to say that these are going to be, and are already, the most valuable rock samples ever collected. said David Shuster, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who is currently working on the valuable samples.

Two cores were taken by drilling in a rock called “Wildcat ridge”. About a meter tall, it is located in a delta that formed about 3.5 billion years ago, where a river and an ancient lake meet. A particularly interesting rock because it is a sedimentary rock that seems to have formed when the water in the lake evaporated. For David Shuster, “Wildcat ridge” therefore has “a high potential for the conservation of a biosignature”.

Analyzed separately by an instrument at the end of Perseverance’s robotic arm, the rock revealed the most abundant presence of organic compounds detected in a year and a half of mission. These compounds, made up in particular of carbon and possibly hydrogen, are the basic elements of life.

During previous analyses, these samples were detected in smaller quantities by the Perservance Rover, particularly in the Jezero crater, which contained the lake. According to Sunanda Sharma, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory: “As we progress through the delta, the clues get stronger and stronger.” “I personally find these results very moving, because it seems that we are in the right place, with the right instruments, at a pivotal moment,” she said.

The Perseverance rover has detected potential biosignatures on Mars

This is a major milestone for the Perseverance rover in its search for traces of ancient life on Mars. NASA announced on Thursday that it had collected samples potentially containing biosignatures.

“I think it’s safe to say that these are going to be, and are already, the most valuable rock samples ever collected,” said David Shuster at a press conference. from the University of California at Berkeley. Because if it is not yet a proof that life once existed on the red planet, these samples could make it possible to detect with certainty a possible ancient microbial life.

Traces of ancient life on Mars? The Perseverance rover detected potential biosignatures

A potential biosignature may have been produced by the presence of life, but also by some other mechanism not involving life. To consider this biosignature as definitive, these samples will therefore have to be analyzed by powerful laboratory instruments on Earth. NASA plans to bring them back with another mission by 2033.

“I think it’s safe to say that these are going to be, and are already, the most valuable rock samples ever collected,” David Shuster, of the University of California at Berkeley.

Two cores the size of a little finger, and kept in sealed tubes on board the rover, were taken by drilling into a rock called “Wildcat ridge”. About a meter tall, it is located in a delta that formed about 3.5 billion years ago, where a river and an ancient lake meet.

Collecting these samples won’t be easy.

This rock is particularly interesting because it is a sedimentary rock, which seems to have formed when the water in the lake evaporated.

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